May 23, 2019

Lead Stories

Deadline - May 22, 2019

Beto bombs at CNN Town Hall crowd collection

Beto O’Rourke’s Tuesday night town hall with CNN’s Dana Bash failed to attract the hoped-for crowd. The 10-11:15 PM broadcast attracted only an average of 714,000 viewers. That includes 194K in the news demo, aka viewers 25-54. In the same block of time, Fox News Channel clocked 2.260M viewers and MSNBC logged 2.196M.

O’Rourke’s numbers fell 29% shy of CNN’s 2019 average in the Tuesday night block of time, and 38% short in the news demo. Despite his suit and tie, livestreamed haircut, and his cogent answers to policy questions from Bash and the Drake University audience, O’Rourke’s stab at a White House race reboot missed the mark. For context: Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper attracted a bigger crowd when he town-halled on CNN (745K) on a Wednesday back in March.

Meanwhile, last Sunday’s FNC town hall with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has stolen media spotlight from O’Rourke in recent weeks, delivered 1.1 million viewers. O’Rourke did edge out Buttigieg’s 172K in the news demo. But O’Rourke came nowhere close to the 708K 25-54 year olds who had watched Kamala Harris’ CNN town hall in January. That remains the town hall demo record holder this election cycle.

Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2019

Texas AG: No, felons like Austin candidate can’t run for office

Completing their sentences and having their voting rights restored does not make felons eligible to run for office, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in an opinion Wednesday, nearly six months after Austin allowed a felon to run for City Council.

Texas law says that people convicted of a felony can hold public office only if pardoned “or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities” — a phrase that is unclear and has not been tested in court. Last year, Lewis Conway Jr., a community organizer who killed a man in 1991, argued that completing his prison sentence and being able to vote should qualify. Not so, Paxton’s opinion says.

Texas law lays out three ways a felon can restore his or her voting rights: Completing his or her sentence, being pardoned or with a judicial release, Paxton wrote. The law only lists the latter two as ways for a felon to run for office. “Construing the plain language of the two provisions, multiple courts have concluded that the automatic restoration of the right to vote to a convicted felon through the completion of his or her sentence does not also restore his or her eligibility to hold public office,” the opinion says. Only an order from a judge, or a pardon, can restore eligibility, Paxton said.

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Texas craft breweries may finally get to sell beer to go, after Senate approves deal

Imagine the scene: You're sitting at a craft brewery in Texas enjoying a hoppy, frothy double IPA. You like it. It's refreshing. You want to buy a six-pack of the local brew to bring home. Only you can't, because Texas doesn't allow to-go beer sales from craft breweries. But maybe soon, you can.

The Texas Senate unanimously passed a bill Wednesday night that, on its face, renews the role of the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. It streamlines licenses and permits required for businesses that sell alcohol and removes some fees. But the bill presented by Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, was also a vehicle for a key amendment that has rankled beer industry leaders for years.

The seemingly simple idea of letting consumers purchase packaged beer from craft breweries has been blocked for years by influential wholesale distributors who opposed the idea of increased competition. But earlier this month, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas struck a deal. The amendment caps brewery sales at one case, per person, per day.

Texas Observer - May 23, 2019

Trump megadonor and Houston mayoral candidate is a top sponsor for Democratic fundraiser with Hillary Clinton

There’s a long list of sponsors for the Harris County Democratic Party’s annual Johnson Rayburn Richards Luncheon, a marquee fundraiser that this year boasts Hillary Clinton as the speaker. The event this Friday features the typical benefactors of party functions, including elected officials, party donors, operatives and activists.

But one of those names is not like the others: Tony Buzbee, the uber-wealthy trial lawyer and controversial persona who is taking on Sylvester Turner, the Democratic mayor of Houston. Like most political fundraisers, the luncheon offers donors various titles depending on their level of generosity. At the top is “The Glass Ceiling Sponsor,” followed by “The Persistent Women.” Buzbee is in the third tier of sponsors, listed as a “White Pantsuit Sponsor” along with Houston’s three Democratic U.S. Representatives.

Oddly enough, Buzbee was also a megadonor for Donald Trump, cutting a check to the Trump Victory fund for $250,000 and giving the Republican National Committee more than $160,000. Now he’s running as an outsider candidate against Sylvester Turner. The race is technically nonpartisan, but Turner is a Democrat; Buzbee calls himself an independent. “I’m buying tables at every political event. Republican. Democrat. Green Party. Independent. Libertarian. I don’t care,” Buzbee told the Observer in an interview. He declined to say whether he still supports President Trump, saying that, as a matter of policy, he is not endorsing or supporting any political candidates.

State Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 23, 2019

Texas Guard commander wants F-35s in San Antonio

The Texas National Guard’s top commander is pushing to have the Air Force bring the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter to San Antonio to replace the guard’s aging F-16s.

Maj. Gen. Tracy Norris visited with members of the Texas congressional delegation in Washington in recent weeks to brief them on arguments that might convince the Air Force to make the swap, two Capitol Hill sources said. The Air Force is starting to look for a base to train the pilots of foreign governments buying its frontline fighter.

In a statement issued in response to questions, Norris didn’t deny she had talked up San Antonio as a possible location for the F-35 Foreign Military Sales program, or FMS, where Air National Guard instructors could play that role. She said it was “premature” to comment on the Defense Department decision. No one in the Pentagon could say publicly if the Air Force was even considering bringing the plane to the Alamo City, where the F-16 is now flown by the guard’s 149th Fighter Wing at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland. One senior defense official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the wing had a good shot at landing the plane.

San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Texas Senate approves expansion of medical marijuana program

Patients with terminal cancer, autism and multiple sclerosis could get access to therapeutic cannabis under a bill passed Wednesday by the state Senate.

Now that both the Senate and the House have approved expanding the state’s limited medical marijuana program, lawmakers must reconcile their proposals before sending a bill to adopt it as law to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who has been hesitant to loosen the program. Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, said the change is a good step forward, but doesn’t address “arbitrary dosing restrictions.”

Texas therapeutic cannabis program is among the most restrictive in the nation. Only patients with uncontrollable epileptic seizures are granted access to cannabidiol with low levels of THC, the element in marijuana that gives users a high. Though an estimated 150,000 patients in Texas suffer from intractable epilepsy, fewer than 600 had received prescriptions for cannabidiol by the end of the last year.

San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Yacht owners on brink of getting tax break, while Texas homeowners wait for theirs

Homeowners are not expecting much of a tax break from the Texas Legislature this year, but millionaire yacht owners are on the brink of getting a major one. The Texas Senate has approved legislation that would cap the amount of sales tax on boats as long as 115 feet at $18,750. For the buyer of a $3 million yacht, that tax break would be worth almost $228,000.

State Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, doesn’t deny big yacht owners will benefit, but that is not the point. “People who buy big boats are buying them in other states,” Taylor said. He said boat sales have plunged in Texas, which has lost its share of the market because other states, such as Florida, are offering tax breaks for yacht sales. Taylor said his bill is more of a jobs bill because it could create up to 600 jobs in Texas. He said once boats are bought in Texas, the buyers will also buy fuel here, as well as equipment and repairs — all services that are going to other states right now.

Texas is way behind Florida in cutting boat taxes. In 2010, Florida capped sales taxes for yachts at $18,000. Alabama also caps sales taxes for boats, but at $37,500. Some states, including Delaware and Rhode Island, have no sales taxes on boats over $1 million, according to the Texas Marine Industry Coalition, which is advocating for the changes. But data shows large boat registrations in Texas have remained largely steady over the past two decades.

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Texas insurance giant tells judges brain-damaged baby and mom are stifling company's free speech

The state's largest Medicaid insurance company refused to pay for nursing that a foster baby with severe birth defects needed. As a result, state records show, the baby suffered a catastrophic brain injury that left him in a vegetative state, unable to ever speak for himself.

After the tragic case of D'ashon Morris was exposed in a Dallas Morning News investigation last year, Linda Badawo, his adoptive mother, sued that insurance company. Now, in an effort to kill that lawsuit, Superior HealthPlan's lawyers are arguing the Badawo family is essentially suing to bully the multi-billion-dollar company and "chill" its right to free speech.

Bradley Hancock, the lawyer representing Superior, argued before the state's Third Court of Appeals Wednesday that the case should be thrown out because of a Texas law that prevents powerful people and companies from silencing critics by burying them in costly lawsuits. Chief Justice Jeff Rose, who led the three-judge panel, expressed immediate skepticism. "This seems like it's off the charts in terms of stretching" the Texas Citizens Participation Act, the judge said, referring to Texas' version of what's called an anti-SLAPP law (that stands for "strategic lawsuit against public participation").

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

'No one has talked more and done less.' Texas tea party Rep. Jonathan Stickland becomes caucus of one

On a recent stormy night, inside the Capitol where he’d massacred countless ideas, some for good reason and others just to watch them die, the self-styled “bill killer” was finally hoping to pass one. “I’ve been waiting a long time for this moment,” the man from Bedford said, pumping a single fist into the air. A whoop rang up from the back of the House as thunder rattled the chamber’s windows. “Seven years.”

On the opposing dais gathered the other lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, united by a common trauma: Having seen the legislation they studied, drafted and nurtured for months stalled or scuttled by the bearded man across the floor. So they did their best to torture Jonathan Stickland, the tea party bombast from North Texas, who was explaining his ban on red-light cameras. They wanted him to know why, in nearly four terms, Stickland had been unable to even present one of his own bills on the House floor.

Democrats rolled their eyes, lit into him for being divisive and dishonest. In the back of the chamber, a top GOP lawmaker was confiscating a larger-than-life Stickland cutout brought in to mock the man at the mic. In the end, Stickland’s bill passed 109-34. It will probably become law, Stickland's first. But it might also be the not-so-momentous climax in a political career defined by contradiction, obstruction and a whole lot of losing — including a major defeat late Tuesday night. The chamber’s resident contrarian has become isolated and predictable, and his opponents hope, finally beatable.

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Dan Crenshaw pushes for more GOP veterans to run for Congress

Houston Rep. Dan Crenshaw and two other Republican lawmakers who served in the military announced a fresh push Wednesday to help fellow veterans run for Congress.

The War Veterans Fund political action committee backed a half-dozen GOP candidates last year. Crenshaw, Gallagher and Rep. Michael Waltz, a Florida freshman who served in the Army for more than 20 years, held a news conference to promote their effort to recruit Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to run in 2020. Veterans often lack the resources to fund a campaign and may start without a large base of supporters, Waltz said.

At least two Democratic veterans are aiming for high office in Texas in next year’s elections. MJ Hegar, an Air Force helicopter pilot who saw combat in Afghanistan, nearly toppled GOP Rep. John Carter last fall in a Central Texas district. Last month, she launched a campaign for Senate, hoping to unseat three-term Republican Sen. John Cornyn. Gina Ortiz Jones, who served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Iraq, lost to Rep. Will Hurd by 926 votes in November. She announced earlier this month that she will try again.

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

Appeals court sides with city in lawsuit over pension bond election

The Texas 1st Court of Appeals has struck down an appeal from a Houston businessman who contested the city’s 2017 pension bond referendum, appearing to end the legal challenge that began almost a year and a half ago.

Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office had denied former housing director James Noteware’s allegation that the mayor misled voters into approving the $1 billion bond sale with a “materially misleading ballot description.” Noteware claimed that the election authorized the city to pay off the bonds by levying a tax that exceeds its voter-imposed revenue cap. A state district judge last year dismissed Noteware’s claim without ruling on his motion for summary judgment in the case.

In the ruling, the judge agreed with the city’s argument that the court lacked jurisdiction because Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton had issued an opinion approving and validating the bonds, while Noteware’s claim “depends on contingent or hypothetical facts.” The city also certified to Paxton’s office that the bonds would be paid in compliance with the city’s revenue cap. The state appellate court on Tuesday affirmed the district court’s judgment dismissing Noteware’s suit. The city used the bond sale to issue funds to its police and municipal employee funds, cementing Turner’s pension reform package. Noteware sued the city before it completed the bond sale, yet a state district judge allowed the transaction to go through amid the lawsuit.

Houston Chronicle - May 23, 2019

Drug-price transparency bill likely headed to Gov. Abbott’s desk, stronger than many predicted

Texas is poised to unveil some of the country’s most aggressive drug-price transparency measures after a bill that consumer advocates had once considered powerless took on new life in the House and passed out of the Senate on Wednesday, with only small concessions made to the pharmaceutical industry.

Not only would the bipartisan legislation force drug companies to account for exorbitant price hikes going forward, but it would also apply retroactively, meaning companies that ratcheted up prices in 2017 and 2018 would have to explain why under the law. “This legislation serves as a much-needed consumer price check on a complicated industry that, frankly, could do with a lot more transparency," Republican Sen. Kelly Hancock, a sponsor, said in a statement.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has also thrown his support behind the measures and appears eager to sign them into law. Under the bill, companies would be required to turn over information every time the cost of a drug increases more than 15 percent in a year, or more than 40 percent over three years. That’s a slightly higher annual threshold than the one the House passed earlier this month, to much surprise, but is still significantly stronger than lawmakers had originally predicted could ever pass both chambers. A similar bill from Rep. Sarah Davis was killed in committee months ago.

Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2019

House, Senate move crime-related bills; lemonade stand bill set for conference committee

The Texas Senate on Wednesday approved a bill to require those arrested for a long list of felonies to provide a DNA sample that can be uploaded to a central database and compared to evidence from other crimes. Under House Bill 1399, approved 25-6 by the Senate, the collected DNA evidence would have to be destroyed if the charges are dropped or a defendant is acquitted, pardoned or found innocent on appeal.

The Texas House voted 143-0 Wednesday to give final approval to legislation creating a new crime, indecent assault, that includes jail time for groping and unwanted sexual contact. Senate Bill 194 would make indecent assault a Class A misdemeanor — with a maximum one-year jail sentence and $4,000 fine — for groping the private areas of another person; rubbing genitals and other private areas against somebody else; removing or trying to remove clothing covering another person’s private parts; and causing someone to touch the blood, semen, vaginal fluid, saliva, urine or feces of another person.

The lemonade stand bill continued to be a spectacle in the Texas House on Wednesday as members successfully shot down a move to immediately accept Senate changes. House Bill 234, which landed in the hearts of House members and caught the eye of the public when an 8-year-old testified in favor of it before a House panel earlier this year, would let children run a lemonade stand without licenses, permits or fees, including in a homeowners association. A Senate revision would let HOAs restrict stands if the child is not a residence of the association. Bill author Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, told the House that he would agree to the change, calling it necessary, but Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, spoke up.

CBS News - May 22, 2019

Texas facility stops taking in migrants after teen's death

U.S. border agents have temporarily stopped taking people into the primary facility for processing migrants in South Texas, a day after a 16-year-old diagnosed with the flu at the facility died. In a statement to CBS News late Tuesday, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said a large number of detainees in its processing center in McAllen, Texas, had high fevers and were displaying signs of a flu-related illness.

The agency said it was working to provide medical treatment to all of those who had fevers. To avoid the spread of the illness, the CBP said, intake operations were temporarily suspended at the facility and migrants who would have been brought there will be taken elsewhere until the situation is resolved. The processing center is a converted warehouse that holds hundreds of parents and children at a time in large, fenced-in pens.

CBP said Monday that a 16-year-old from Guatemala died after being detained at the facility for six days, twice as long as generally allowed by U.S. law. After being diagnosed with the flu on Sunday, Carlos Hernandez Vasquez was transferred to a smaller Border Patrol station, where he was found unresponsive Monday. CBS News spoke to one of Hernandez's brothers, in New Jersey, who wants to know what happened. "The hardest part about it all is what happened to him because we never thought this would happen in a place where he's supposed to be in a better place," he told CBS News through a translation.

Texas Observer - May 21, 2019

Ready, set, file: Transparency bills passed by Legislature could open the door to once-public records

After a hard fight spanning four years and two legislatures, it looks like Texans’ right to know what their government is up to has been restored in important ways this session. The biggest victory came on Friday, when the so-called Boeing loophole — named for the aircraft manufacturer that sued to keep a lease agreement between the company and the government secret in 2015 — was closed by lawmakers.

The carve-out has been used by private companies and the government itself thousands of times to hide how taxpayer money has been spent on everything from school food service contracts to power plant deals and a concert by a certain Latin pop sensation. Last week, the Texas House joined state senators in passing Senate Bill 943, by Austin Democrat Kirk Watson, culminating in a major tune-up of the sputtering Texas Public Information Act.

County Stories

Rio Grande Guardian - May 22, 2019

Hidalgo County asked to pump half a million dollars into colonia street lights program

ARISE, a community group that assists low-income families in the Rio Grande Valley, is asking Hidalgo County commissioners to pump $500,000 into a colonia streets lighting program. Around three dozen members and supporters of the organization attended a commissioners court meeting on Tuesday to unveil a new video about street lighting in colonias.

Guerra said La Unión del Pueblo Entero (LUPE), another community group that assists colonia residents, and the media company NETA deserved thanks for helping produce the video. Asked where the greatest need is, Guerra told the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM: “We have colonias all over Hidalgo County but we know the need is really great in Precinct 1 and Precinct 4.”

Precinct 1 is in the eastern part of the county. Precinct 4 is in the northern part. Working with Hidalgo County, ARISE and LUPE formed the Hidalgo County Unincorporated Subdivision Street Lights Program three years ago. The program has helped 26 unincorporated subdivisions secure street lights. Once the video had been shown, Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu said there is a lot of “false rhetoric” about colonias and colonia residents. “But we know how much effort they make to make sure their bills are paid.”

Austin American-Statesman - May 23, 2019

Small-town allure spurs suburban growth in Central Texas, census data shows

New Braunfels ranked second in growth last year among U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 or more, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released Thursday. New Braunfels’ population grew at a rate of 7.2% from July 2017 to July 2018, the figures show.

Among the top 15 cities with the highest growth rate, about half were in Texas, including two Austin-area suburbs in Williamson County. Georgetown came in at No. 7, with an annual growth rate of 5.2%, and Round Rock was No. 15 and grew by 4.3%. Other smaller Central Texas cities grew even faster, though they did not make the list because their populations don’t exceed 50,000 people. Dripping Springs grew by 20.59%, Leander by 12.5% percent and Kyle by 8.1%, all increases similar to those seen in previous years and continuing a boom along the Interstate 35 corridor.

The cities with the largest numeric increases were all cities in the South and Southwest: Phoenix, San Antonio and Fort Worth. Other Texas cities with populations of 50,000 or more that saw some of the fastest growth were Frisco, McKinney and Rowlett in the Dallas area and Midland in West Texas, which is seeing a resurgence because of the rising oil prices.

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

Texas Senate action boosts plan to memorialize Fort Bend County remains

The Texas Senate has brought Fort Bend County a step closer to owning and operating a cemetery on the site where 95 African-American remains believed to be those of prison laborers were discovered last year.

HB 4179, which would enable the county to operate the cemetery, was approved unanimously by senators Tuesday after earlier passage by the House. The measure now requires only Gov. Greg Abbott's signature to become law. The Texas Health and Safety Code limits ownership of cemeteries to counties with a population of 8,200 or fewer. Rep. Rick Miller,R-Sugar Land, originally filed a bill to make such ownership possible in Fort Bend County, where the population is more than 780,000.

Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, who carried the bill in the Senate, said he was honored to be part of the process. "This is purely a matter of respect and righting the wrong that was done many, many years ago," Miles said Tuesday. "Everybody deserves a right to a proper burial and that's what we're trying to do here." Fort Bend County Judge KP George said county officials will continue negotiations with Fort Bend ISD on the proper way to memorialize the remains. He declined to go into detail, but said he hoped to come to a resolution next month.

D Magazine - May 21, 2019

Dallas County’s Republican Party selects a new chair to succeed the Late Missy Shorey

The Dallas County Republican Party has a new chair. Again. After three ballots, former state Rep. Rodney Anderson of Grand Prairie was elected last night by the party’s executive committee. He faced Justice of the Peace Bill Metzger, former Vice Chairman Karen Watson, and former Dallas County Republican Assembly Chairwoman Dr. Ivette Lozano.

Anderson is the fifth county party chair since 2016, a period of time that has seen support waver for GOP candidates in and around Dallas. He succeeds Missy Shorey, who died a month ago. Shorey, the first woman to lead the county’s party, succeeded Phillip Huffines, the brother of former state Sen. Don Huffines and failed state senate candidate himself. Huffines succeeded Mark Montgomery, who defeated Wade Emmert in the primary. Both Huffines and Montgomery resigned. During these times, the party was a mess. Shorey was recruited to bring stability—and a young, fresh face—to the party.

Anderson, the former four-term legislator, was a last minute entrant, replacing former Executive Director Josh Parker. He had endorsements from a broad spectrum of the party, including Congressman Kenny Marchant, former colleagues Cindy Burkett and Kenneth Sheets, and his political rival former Congressional candidate and consultant Bunni Pounds. He also admitted the fight for 2020 is an uphill one. “The 2020 election cycle in Dallas County is shaping up to be an extremely complex political puzzle. Campaign experience in building coalitions, analyzing precinct and election data, and fostering a unified Republican brand will be absolutely critical. Together, we will take the fight to the Democrats and create a path to victory,” he said.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Toyota could invest $392 million in San Antonio plant

Toyota is considering its South Side truck plant for a $392 million investment in production-line technology over the next three years, according to city officials. But the Japanese automaker isn’t just eyeing San Antonio — it’s weighing all of its North American plants for the investment, which is driving San Antonio officials to sweeten the pot with an incentive package valued at $10.3 million.

Rene Dominguez, director of the city’s Economic Development Department, outlined the potential investment and the proposed incentives in a memo to City Council members posted late Wednesday on the city’s web site. The investment, he added, would likely result in expansions at Toyota suppliers that serve the San Antonio plant, which produce the Tundra and Tacoma pickups. However, it’s not clear whether the capital infusion would create new jobs inside the Toyota operation.

The manufacturer and 23 suppliers that operate on the site employ about 7,200 workers, according to the city. The investment, Dominguez said, would add technology not currently used in the automaker’s American production lines, allowing it to produce more models. Under the proposed incentive agreement, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas would not have to pay property taxes for eight years — contingent on the company spending $348 million on equipment and $44 million on land within three years. The manufacturer would also have to give $1 million to local educational and workforce development initiatives.

San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Two heavy hitters agree to support San Antonio Mayor Nirenberg in hotly contested runoff

Mayor Ron Nirenberg landed critical last-minute reinforcements in his contentious runoff with challenger Greg Brockhouse, as two groups skilled in mobilizing San Antonio volunteers committed to getting out the vote for the incumbent.

But the endorsements from the Texas Organizing Project and the Texas Democratic Party come relatively late in the campaign. TOP’s was arrived at after extended internal debate that underscored the difficulty Nirenberg has had generating enthusiasm for his reelection bid, even among natural allies. Local observers said it’s the first time they can recall a state party organization getting involved in a San Antonio mayoral race. Party officials said it’s part of a relatively new effort to become involved in local races that offer clear ideological choices.

TOP notified Nirenberg and Brockhouse on Monday that it would throw its weight behind the incumbent, pledging to reach out to its membership on his behalf. The group said the vote for Nirenberg was decisive. The decision will be made public Thursday. “I’m grateful, humbled and proud to once again have the support of TOP and the hard-working people who make up that organization,” Nirenberg said of the group’s endorsement. “We share common goals and I look forward to continuing to work with them.”

Austin American-Statesman - May 22, 2019

Texas House approves bill to create special Muny district

Legislation to establish a special district in Austin with the goal of preserving Lions Municipal Golf Course — for golfing, parkland or a combination of the two — won final approval by the Texas House on Wednesday by a vote of 104-38.

The Senate is expected to go along with an amendment added by the House and forward the measure to Gov. Greg Abbott, who, in turn, is expected to sign it. Senate Bill 2553 would create the Save Historic Muny District, consisting of the 141-acre course along Lake Austin Boulevard as well as Tarrytown, Old Enfield, Pemberton Heights and other West Austin neighborhoods.

The bill by itself does not preserve Muny but rather is a tool that could be used to help achieve that outcome, according to its author, Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. It was carried in the House by Rep. Donna Howard, also an Austin Democrat. Under an amendment added on the House floor by Howard, the district would be dissolved by May 31, 2021, unless it has entered into an agreement with the University of Texas to purchase or otherwise preserve the land. UT owns the property occupied by the city-operated course.

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

Houston council staffer who claimed salary while at military law training is suspended

Houston’s highest-paid city council staffer was suspended this week after a Houston Chronicle investigation found he reported working standard work days or sick days to continue collecting his $119,600 salary while he was out of the state for four months in a military law training program.

Daniel Albert, chief of staff to District F Councilman Steve Le, was suspended effective Monday — the same day that Albert met with investigators from the city’s Office of Inspector General, the council member said Wednesday Le said he directed that Albert be suspended without pay, but added that the city legal department is examining whether that would be proper before the OIG probe is finished. Le said that investigation, which he initiated several weeks ago, could wrap up next week.

Albert referred questions to Houston attorney Sean Timmons, who said Albert’s conduct may be covered by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act, which protects service members’ employment rights when they engage in military service. “There was no nefarious intent here,” Timmons said. “If there was a misunderstanding, we’ll take appropriate steps to correct whatever deficiency resulted from that.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 23, 2019

Fort Worth’s booming growth refuses to slow down as city becomes 13th largest in U.S.

The boom shows no sign of ending. Fort Worth is now the 13th-largest city in the United States, behind Jacksonville, Florida, and ahead of Columbus, Ohio, as well as San Francisco, according to the latest Census Bureau population estimates released Thursday.

Last year, Fort Worth ranked 15th but the city added 19,552 people between July 1, 2017 and July 1, 2018, to reach a population of 895,000. It was the third-largest gain behind Phoenix and San Antonio. Just last month, the Census Bureau said the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington area added more than 1 million since 2010, the most in the country.

Across Texas, the growth continues from DFW southward to Austin and San Antonio. Three Texas cities are in the top 10: Houston (fourth), San Antonio (seventh) and Dallas (ninth). Dallas’ growth dropped dramatically. Nationally, the housing market continues to grow, adding 1.2 million units between 2017 and 2018 to reach 138.5 million. Texas led the nation by adding 172,000 housing units, followed by Florida (108,000), California (104,000) and North Carolina (63,000). Despite the stereotype of California buyers pouring into Texas, Fort Worth real estate Susan Krus said that’s not the case right now in North Texas.

National Stories

Washington Post - May 22, 2019

Putin out-prepared Trump in key meeting, Rex Tillerson told House panel

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee that Russian President Vladimir Putin out-prepared President Trump during a key meeting in Germany, putting the U.S. leader at a disadvantage during their first series of tête-à-têtes.

The U.S. side anticipated a shorter meeting for exchanging courtesies, but it ballooned into a globe-spanning two-hour-plus session involving deliberations on a variety of geopolitical issues, said committee aides, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss Tillerson’s seven-hour closed meeting with the committee.

“We spent a lot of time in the conversation talking about how Putin seized every opportunity to push what he wanted,” a committee aide said. “There was a discrepancy in preparation, and it created an unequal footing.” Tillerson, whose public remarks about the president have been sparse since his dramatic firing in March 2018, spoke to a bipartisan group of lawmakers and staffers Tuesday at the request of the chairman of the committee, Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.). In response to Tillerson’s remarks, Trump countered his former aide, saying in a statement that he “was perfectly prepared for my meetings with Vladimir Putin. We did very well at those meetings.”

Washington Post - May 23, 2019

Proposed HUD rule would strip transgender protections at homeless shelters

The Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday proposed a new rule that would weaken Obama-era protections for homeless transgender people, allowing federally funded shelters to deny people admission on religious grounds or force transgender women to share bathrooms and sleeping quarters with men.

The proposed rule comes one day after HUD Secretary Ben Carson assured members of Congress that the agency had no plans to eliminate the 2012 Equal Access Rule, which banned federal housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. When questioned by Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-Va., on HUD's treatment of transgender people, Carson said his responsibility is to "make sure everybody is treated fairly. "

He assured Wexton that HUD had no plans to alter the Equal Access protection, saying: "I'm not currently anticipating changing the rule." The proposal is the latest move by the Trump administration to weaken protections for transgender Americans, including a Department of Defense ban on transgender troops and a Department of Health and Human Services proposal allowing medical providers to deny treatment to transgender people on religious grounds.

Associated Press - May 21, 2019

North Carolina woman sues Project Veritas, founder for libel

A disabled North Carolina woman is suing the right-wing group Project Veritas and its founder James O’Keefe over how her assault outside a 2016 Donald Trump campaign rally was portrayed in a video.

Jurors in Asheville were sequestered before testimony Tuesday in the federal libel trial expected to last all week. Shirley Teter, 71, of Asheville, sued O’Keefe, Project Veritas and its tax-exempt social welfare affiliate Project Veritas Action for what her lawyers described as targeting an innocent, private person for “ridicule, contempt, or disgrace.” Project Veritas has used disguises and hidden cameras to uncover supposed liberal bias and corruption.

Teter joined a crowd of protesters outside a Trump rally on Sept. 12, 2016, at an arena a block from her downtown Asheville senior housing apartment. The disabled woman was assaulted and knocked to the ground, police said. A South Carolina man was arrested days later, but charges were later dropped. A month later, Project Veritas Action Fund released an online video purporting to show Democratic operatives describing a plan to incite violence at Trump rallies.

Associated Press - May 22, 2019

Trump’s campaign centered on fighting Democrats, not policy

President Donald Trump dropped the pretense of working with congressional Democrats on Wednesday and sent a clear message that his re-election campaign will be centered on condemning overzealous investigations rather than advancing a robust domestic policy agenda.

Both sides may have feigned surprise at Trump’s angry outburst, in which he said he won’t work with Democrats until they drop their probes of his administration. But they were on a collision course long before Wednesday’s confrontation in the Cabinet Room. Trump has been betting the future of his presidency on trying to goad Democrats into impeaching him, and the three-minute meeting marked a new low in the slow-moving drama over executive powers, congressional oversight and the critical needs of the nation.

Trump’s declaration that he would end any attempt at bipartisan cooperation until Democrats drop their probes of his administration was eagerly retold by representatives of both parties. The two sides echoed long drawn rhetorical battle lines in the hours that followed. But the roots of the disagreement trace back more than six months, to when White House aides strategized over how handle to an anticipated Democratic takeover of the House. Trump first delivered the warning publicly the day after Nancy Pelosi secured her return to the speakership last November, when she said her party would not have to choose between investigations and compromise.

New York Times - May 22, 2019

Trump walks out on Pelosi and Schumer after 3 minutes

President Donald Trump abruptly blew up a scheduled meeting with Democratic congressional leaders Wednesday, lashing out at Speaker Nancy Pelosi for accusing him of a cover-up and declaring that he could not work with them until they stopped investigating him.

He then marched out into the Rose Garden, where reporters had been gathered, and delivered a statement bristling with anger as he demanded that Democrats “get these phony investigations over with.” He said they could not legislate and investigate at the same time. “We’re going to go down one track at a time,” he said.

The confrontation came on a day when pressure over a possible impeachment effort raised temperatures on both sides of the aisle. Pelosi, (D-CA), arrived at the White House for a session with the president set to talk about infrastructure shortly after meeting with restive House Democrats on Capitol Hill to talk about impeachment. She emerged from that meeting with Democrats accusing Trump of a “cover-up.”

Governing - May 22, 2019

Public housing agencies oppose HUD's plan to evict immigrant families

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) published a rule this month in the Federal Register that would disqualify families from living in public housing or receiving Section 8 housing vouchers if they have an undocumented person living with them. It's now subject to a 60-day comment period, ending in mid-July.

Undocumented immigrants are already barred from directly receiving housing subsidies but not from living in public housing. The Trump administration's rule would disqualify an entire family from public housing unless every person living with them can prove their lawful immigration status.

Housing experts say the rule would put families out on the street without substantially cutting down on waitlists. A 2016 analysis estimated that there are 1.6 million families waiting for public housing. HUD's new rule could create tens of thousands of openings. The Public Housing Authorities Directors Association (PHADA), whose members would be charged with enforcing the HUD rule, are against it.

Stateline - May 22, 2019

Can cutting off opioids too quickly harm patients? Feds say yes.

To stem the opioid epidemic, U.S. doctors cut prescriptions of medications such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet by at least a quarter over the last five years. But the reduction in prescriptions came at a cost to some pain patients.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration last month warned prescribers that abruptly cutting off high-dose patients or tapering their doses too rapidly could cause withdrawal and even suicide. The new recommendations likely will prompt states to consider adjusting their opioid prescribing laws, said Karmen Hanson, a public health expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But since the CDC and FDA clarifications came near the end of legislative sessions for most states, no actions are anticipated this year, she said. More than half of states enacted laws restricting painkiller prescriptions after earlier federal guidance urged such limits, but the agencies say that advice may have been misinterpreted or taken too far. The FDA last month said it had received reports of patients taken off their pain medicines who were suffering “serious withdrawal symptoms, uncontrolled pain, psychological distress and suicide.”

May 22, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Mental health bill killed by North Texas lawmaker resurrected in 11th-hour legislative maneuver

A major bipartisan mental health bill that looked dead earlier Tuesday has been revived and passed after a heated late night tête-à-tête. On Tuesday evening, Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, brought down the bill using a legislative procedural tactic. But just before midnight, his Republican colleagues in the Texas House resurrected the legislation by tacking it onto another bill. That bill passed 130-11. Stickland would not comment after the vote.

The mental health legislation, which was originally filed as Senate Bill 10, would set aside $100 million to create a consortium of universities and medical professionals to better connect Texas schoolchildren with mental health services, expand telemedicine for students and encourage research in this arena. It was written in response to the shooting at Santa Fe High School, where a student killed eight teenagers and two teachers one year ago this past weekend.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said it aimed to identify mental health problems, and connect children with a mental health care provider, sooner. Nelson, who heads the budget writing committee in the Senate, considered passing it among her top goals of the session. Gov. Greg Abbott designated it an emergency item and Lt. Gov. Greg Abbott made it one of his top 30 priorities. But Stickland targeted the bill, he said, after hearing from "the grassroots" that it would infringe on the rights of parents, stigmatize mental health issues and act as a slush fund for research institutions. "It did not respect parental rights. I'm worried about some unintended consequences," Stickland, R-Bedford, told The Dallas Morning News, earlier Tuesday. "All the conversation about public health and what is the government's job and role and how should we approach it."

San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Texas GOP leaders join Democrats in call for a different sort of border wall

With President Donald Trump and Congress at an impasse on border security, the Texas Legislature is taking matters into its own hands, speeding legislation that could build 12 miles of retaining walls along the Rio Grande in Laredo, construct 90 miles of new roads that would help border patrol, and address choking weeds that are blamed for hindering law enforcement.

While Democrats supporting the bill insist it’s not President Donald Trump’s wall, Republicans are calling the 20-foot-high ‘non-scalable’ retention wall a step toward improved border security that the federal government has failed on. The legislation cleared the Texas House on a bipartisan vote this month, and the Texas Senate pushed it through a committee on Tuesday morning. It is almost certain to pass the Senate, and Gov. Greg Abbott is supporting it.

“The federal government can't get their act together. When you have the Democrats and Republicans fighting over border security, not much is going to get done,” said State Rep. Kyle Biedermann, a Republican from Fredericksburg, who is the bill’s main sponsor in the House. House Bill 4306 would create a “border infrastructure enhancement program” that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott would be able to use for the retention wall, for building a new road connecting Eagle Pass to Laredo and clearing non-native plants, such as thickets of Carrizo cane where border crossers can hide.

Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2019

Study: Texas coastal barrier would prevent major economic losses

Housing sales would drop, gasoline prices would increase and Texas would lose hundreds of billions of dollars in economic output if a major storm struck an unprotected coastline, according to a new study.

The joint study by Texas A&M University at Galveston and the Texas General Land Office assesses the storm surge impacts on the three counties along Galveston Bay — Galveston, Harris, and Chambers — and explores how flooding from a severe storm would impact different sectors of the local and national economies.

The study finds that a 500-year storm would result in an 8 percent decrease in Gross State Product by 2066, an $853 billion loss. (A 500-year flood has a 0.2 percent chance of occurring in a given year. Hurricane Harvey was the third such event in the Houston area in three years.) With a coastal barrier in place, the study found, economic losses would be significantly less harmful. Gross State Product would still decline after a 500-year storm, but only by 2 percent. Housing sales would decrease by 2 percent, while petroleum and chemical output would decline by 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively.

Houston Public Media - May 21, 2019

‘We do not have coverage here:’ Texans take on federal broadband maps

If the total number of people in the U.S. lacking broadband internet access was a state — at around 25 million — it would be roughly the population of Texas.

But many argue the maps showing who has access and who doesn’t are wrong. And it could impact who gets money and grants to increase access. Some Texas communities are creating their own maps to correct the record. The Federal Communications Commission’s fixed broadband maps say 24 million people lack access around the country, but a report out last month from Microsoft showed more than 162 million people don’t use high-speed internet.

Many argue that these broadband maps— which were updated after three years in 2018— need to be updated again. About $7.5 million has been set aside for the Commerce Department to work on them, but Rosenworcel said the FCC should not rely only on self-reporting from ISPs but also crowdsource the data. Residents of Deep East Texas think they are one of those areas where the FCC has it wrong and are doing just that.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Ken Herman: Texas House kills, revives late effort to curtail arrests for low-level crimes

It evolved into a late-session issue that won’t go away, one in which there’s general agreement that there’s a problem but there had been paralyzing differences in the Texas House on a solution, until about 75 minutes prior to a midnight deadline to deal with it. And what’s at stake is freedom for thousands of Texans each year.

I told you in last Sunday’s column about the odd — even by Texas Legislature standards — history of legislation concerning the reality that Texans can be arrested and jailed for offenses for which they can’t be jailed if convicted. They’re Class C misdemeanors, the lowest form of criminal charge, and they include traffic offenses. Quick rewind: On May 8, the Texas House voted 126-20 for final approval of a bill limiting when cops can arrest somebody on a Class C misdemeanor charge. But, amid some confusion, a motion to reconsider was approved, and the bill went down 55-88.

On May 10, an effort to re-reconsider the bill was made on a Friday evening after some members had headed home prior to adjournment. The motion to reconsider the bill prevailed in two votes, close enough for a roll call verification that showed that 27 members originally shown as voting were actually not in the chamber. The final verified vote was two short of what was needed to reconsider the bill. Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, found it late Monday night in an inconsequential Senate bill that made technical corrections in criminal case record keeping. Moody is the House sponsor of the measure, Senate Bill 815. Late Monday, he won voice-vote approval for the bill and an amendment with a provision that could make cops think twice before hauling in somebody on a Class C misdemeanor charge.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Senate passes ballot-access bill opposed by Democrats

Divided along party lines, the Texas Senate gave final approval late Monday to a bill that would change the rules on third-party access to the ballot in ways, Democrats argue, that would hurt their party and help Republicans. House Bill 2504, which is on its way to Gov. Greg Abbott, would lower the threshold for placing Green and Libertarian party candidates on the ballot.

Currently, if a third-party candidate gets 5% of the vote in a statewide race in the previous general election, its candidates qualify for ballot placement in statewide races. HB 2504 would lower the threshold to 2% of votes in any of the previous five general elections, a 10-year window. The change would allow the Green Party to meet the standard, while the Libertarian Party meets the current standard.

In addition, the bill would require candidates who are nominated in a party convention, not a primary election, to pay a filing fee or collect a certain number of signatures to get on the ballot. During debate on the bill Sunday, its sponsor, Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, said the goal was to increase access to the ballot. Several Democratic senators said the changes would make it easier for shadow candidates, those recruited by major-party leaders or donors to siphon votes away from the opposition.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

One year after Santa Fe shooting, Texas lawmakers poised to approve sweeping changes

A year after 10 people were gunned down at Santa Fe High School, the Texas House on Tuesday gave preliminary approval 128-14 to a sweeping school safety bill that would increase state funding to better secure schools.

Senate Bill 11 also would require school districts to better identify students who are at risk of hurting themselves and others and would require more emergency response training for school employees. The bill “improves school safety at each campus in the State of Texas. This legislation is inspired by the students, the faculty and the staff at Santa Fe High School, and I’d like to thank them,” said Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who presented the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

The bill would give school districts about $50 more per student, for a total cost to the state of $531 million over the next two years, for improving school infrastructures, purchasing security cameras and hiring peace officers and mental health personnel, among other expenses. It also would require school districts to create multihazard emergency plans, use trauma-informed practices, include substitute teachers in training sessions required for district employees and require that each classroom have access to a telephone or communication device.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Bumble-backed online sexual harassment bill heads to governor’s desk

The Texas Senate approved a bill Monday that would criminalize the sending of unsolicited nude or sexual photos, sending the measure backed by Austin-based Bumble to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Executives of Bumble, the popular female-focused dating app, approached Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, about filing House Bill 2789. The measure makes it a Class C misdemeanor — punishable by a fine up to $500 — to send a lewd photo without the consent of the recipient. “This is a big step in the right direction,” Meyer said in a written statement. “We must ensure that our laws keep up with the times, which means fighting against sexual harassment in the digital world.”

The House approved the bill last month by a vote of 122 to 12, and the Senate on Monday unanimously approved the measure. Input from companies like Bumble highlighted the growing problem of aggressive and unsolicited sexual communication online, Meyer said. Match Group, which owns dating sites like Tinder and OkCupid, also supported the measure. Despite concern from some legal experts who say the bill could face challenges over its scope and legal precedent, the bill did not receive any opposition during public hearings in House and Senate committees.

Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2019

Erica Grieder: Chick-fil-A was not ‘saved’ by the Texas Legislature

Like many Texans, I approve of Chick-fil-A’s Original Chicken Sandwich, and eat one occasionally. However, the Spicy Chicken Wrap from Wendy’s is a better option for me when I’m seeking a quick lunch involving some form of fried chicken on the way into the office. It’s smaller and has 70 fewer calories than the Original Chicken Sandwich and is, as the name suggests, optimized for travel.

That’s why I was eating a Spicy Chicken Wrap from Wendy’s on Tuesday, when the Texas House passed Senate Bill 1978, better known as the #SaveChickFilA bill. Although I was disappointed by the measure’s passage, my considerations about the matter aren’t ideological. I realize we live in a hyper-political era. Still, a chicken sandwich doesn’t need to be a political football — and the people who are determined to make it one, in this case, have comported themselves in a way that I consider unduly cynical.

The measure, authored by Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes of Mineola, seeks to prohibit local governments from taking adverse action against Texans based on their affiliation with, or support for, religious organizations. After Democrats succeeded in killing the House version of the bill, Republicans, who control both chambers of the Texas Legislature, were spurred to action. S.B. 1978 passed on a mostly party-line vote and is now headed for Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. The governor knows his base is with Chick-fil-A on this one. Social conservatives such as Jonathan Saenz, the president of an advocacy group called Texas Values, applauded this statement.

Houston Chronicle - May 22, 2019

What are the most stressed out cities in Texas? Twitter knows.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic. Climate change. Politics. Who did or did not die in “Game of Thrones.” We’re stressed, y’all. And researchers say that our tweets are showing it. An algorithmic tool called TensiStrength analyzed more than 5 million “real-time tweets” over a two-week period in every U.S. state and the 100 most populated cities, according to Babylon Health, a digital health-care provider

The tool analyzes terms related to stress, frustration, anxiety, anger and negativity and ranks them on two scales: no stress or very highly stress and no relaxation or highly relaxed. The results do not bode well for Texas, which shows that more than 10 percent of the reviewed cities’ population published “stressed-out” tweets in that two week-period. Texas ranks as the 12th most stressed-out state in the U.S. at 10.88 percent of tweets reviewed were measured as “stressed,” according to the study.

Thirteen Texas cities were reviewed, including Arlington with a population of nearly 400,000 people to Houston at 2.3 million. Houston is ranked second most-stressed with 11.60 percent of its residents tweeting out stress-related language, according to the study. San Antonio comes in first on the list at 11.62 percent. Corpus Christi, Lubbock, El Paso and Laredo are ranked third through sixth on the list, with similar percentages, circa 11.5 percent. Dallas rounds out the top 10 at 10.29 percent, and Austin is right behind it at 10.2 percent of its residents’ stress-tweeting.

Houston Chronicle - May 21, 2019

Texas honky tonks turn to state Legislature for help

The Texas dance halls and honky tonks that launched legends like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Lyle Lovett are turning to the state government to help them keep the pipeline of music stars flowing from the Lone Star State.

Independent music venues have organized and are asking the state Legislature to pass a bill that would give back to the venues a portion of alcohol sales taxes that they pay. The money would go into a $10 million “music incubator” fund to help honky tonks pay for booking live music, promotions and venue upkeep. Venues and music festivals could apply for up to $100,000 worth of alcohol and sales tax rebates.

In Austin, one of those famous venues, Threadgills, closed its downtown location in 2018, citing escalating property taxes and increased operational costs. Green said others are struggling to hang on too, especially in rural communities. He said places like Gruene Hall, Floore Country Store in Helotes, the Broken Spoke in Austin, and the Backyard in Waco are where new musicians are cutting their teeth to keep the state’s rich music tradition alive.

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2019

Texas' Constitution makes a state income tax nearly impossible. Now voters could make it even harder

A Collin County House lawmaker's plan to more deeply discourage anyone trying to drum up support for an individual income tax in Texas is headed to the November ballot.

Plano GOP Rep. Jeff Leach's House Joint Resolution 38 would give voters a choice to make an income tax -- already strongly frowned upon, because for 26 years, the state Constitution has said that requires a vote of the people –– even more problematic. If voters agree with Leach on Nov. 5, future proponents of a personal income tax would face an even steeper climb: They'd have to win support from two-thirds of each chamber of the Legislature and a vote of the people to repeal his 2019 change.

Dallas Morning News - May 22, 2019

Texas poised to crack down on wasted college credits, offering better support to transfer students

On Monday, the House approved legislation aimed at reducing time and money spent on wasted credits. The bill, written by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for final approval. Once these students get to a four-year university, many are finding more focused support efforts aimed at helping them succeed.

But only about 30 percent of students who start at a public two-year college end up with a certificate or degree within six years, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Transferring college credits between schools shouldn't be so hard, said West, who has spent six years working on his legislation to smooth such transitions.

This particular bill assures that they are beginning to align in making college education more affordable." Nationally, about 43 percent of credits are lost when students move between schools, according to a 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Better tracking of what does and doesn't count toward majors would curb much of that waste, West said. His bill requires students to file degree plans earlier in their academic journey to ensure they enroll in classes that line up with their majors. Also, universities would have to report to the state what credits they didn't accept toward a major and explain why.

San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Newly released Sandra Bland video prompts Texas House committee hearing

A Texas House committee will hold a hearing Friday on the newly released cellphone video of the arrest of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died in a Waller County jail cell after a traffic stop escalated.

The 39-second recording, published earlier this month by Dallas television station WFAA in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Network, sparked new interest in the high-profile case that had helped spur the Black Lives Matter movement. The video showed for the first time Bland’s perspective of the confrontation when a white state trooper pointed a stun gun at her and ordered her out of her vehicle.

Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, chair of the County Affairs committee, set the hearing for Friday at 8 a.m. the Texas State Capitol at in room E2.028. The Office of the Attorney General and Texas Department of Public Safety have been invited to testify, according to a press release from Coleman’s office. Coleman, who in 2017 carried the "Sandra Bland Act" that the family criticized for being weakened before signed into law, said at the time that he would look into why Bland's family never saw the footage.

San Antonio Express-News - May 22, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: EMILY’s List throws its support behind Jones’s congressional bid

EMILY’s List, the powerful political action committee that supports pro-choice Democratic women who seek elective office, will announce Wednesday that it is endorsing Gina Ortiz Jones in U.S. District 23.

The group’s decision to throw its weight behind Jones’s congressional campaign isn’t exactly a surprise. The organization backed the former Air Force intelligence officer during her 2018 campaign in District 23, a political odyssey that ended last November with a heartbreaking 926-vote loss to Republican incumbent Will Hurd. The timing of the endorsement, however, is noteworthy. During Jones’s first congressional run, EMILY’s List waited until late November 2017 to formally back her, only three-and-a-half months before a primary in which she faced four other Democratic hopefuls.

This time around, the EMILY’s List endorsement comes only a week after Jones, 38, launched her campaign and more than nine months before this state’s 2020 Democratic primary. Two years ago, Jones was a first-time candidate still in the process of proving she could handle the political fundamentals: raising money, building an organization and connecting with voters in a sprawling 29-county district that runs from San Antonio to El Paso County. This time around, as the EMILY’s List endorsement serves to underscore, she enters the race with the aura of a presumptive Democratic nominee.

KUT - May 21, 2019

State lawmakers approve legislation shielding most Texans from surprise medical bills

A surprise medical bill may be a thing of the past for many Texans. In a unanimous vote, the Texas House approved a Senate bill banning health care providers from sending steep medical bills to insured Texans in emergencies.

Senate Bill 1264 passed the Texas House on a 146-0 vote. If signed into law, it would remove patients from the middle of disputes between a health insurance company and a hospital or other medical provider. This doesn't apply to Texans with federally regulated plans, which account for roughly 40 percent of the state's health insurance market.

Surprise medical billing typically happens when someone with health insurance goes to a hospital during an emergency and that hospital is out-of-network. It also happens if that patient goes to an in-network hospital and their doctors or medical providers are not in-network. Sometimes insurance companies and medical providers won’t agree on what’s a fair price for that care and patients end up with a hefty medical bill.

KUT - May 22, 2019

One in four Texas women of childbearing age don’t have health insurance.

Texas has the highest percentage of uninsured women between the ages of 18 to 44, according to a new study from the Georgetown University Center for Children and Families. The study found that, nationwide, 12.3 % of women of childbearing age don't have health insurance. The rate in Texas, however, is more than double the national average – at 25.5 %.

Joan Alker, the center’s executive director, said, overall, the study found rates in states that have not expanded Medicaid were roughly double the rate of uninsured women, compared to those that have expanded Medicaid. Texas is among a minority of states that has decided not to expand its Medicaid program to more low-income adults through the Affordable Care Act. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, to date, 37 states – including DC – have expanded their programs. Alker said Texas’ refusal to expand health coverage is among a variety of reasons the state’s rate is the highest in the nation.

Texas' large Latino population is also affecting the state’s rate. Latinos, overall, have been less likely to be insured compared to white, black and Asian populations. The state also has strict income limits to qualify for Medicaid, Alker said, which is also driving down insured rates among women. "You have to be so poor in Texas that you have to have under $300 a month to be eligible as a parent for the Medicaid program," she said. "That is one of the lowest eligibility levels in the country."

Houston Public Media - May 22, 2019

Survey reveals Texans’ opinions on how to fund public schools, as legislative session nears close

A majority of Texans approve of spending more on education and want property taxes limited, though support varies between demographic breakdowns, according to a survey by the University of Houston’s Hobby School of Public Affairs.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared both school finance and property tax overhaul emergency items for Texas lawmakers this session, which is scheduled to wrap up next week. Researchers surveyed registered Texas voters at the end of March 2019, finding broad support for increased spending on schools including pay raises for teachers and librarians, as well as expanded funding for early childhood education programs and school districts with higher percentages of low-income students.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 22, 2019

Miss Black Texas sues city, former police chief over 2017 arrest that made national news

A woman whose arrest made national news in 2017 in Hunt County filed a lawsuit against the city of Commerce and its former police chief, who she says violated her civil rights. In May 2017, Carmen Ponder, who is also Miss Black Texas 2016, said former Commerce Police Chief Kerry Crews arrested her without reason on charges that were later dismissed.

She and her attorney, Lee Merritt, filed the suit in Northern District of Texas-Dallas federal court Monday. Crews, who resigned the month after Ponder’s arrest and became the assistant to the city manager shortly after, was not able to be reached for comment. He became the county’s Justice of Peace at Precinct 2 in January. City Manager Darrek Ferrell and the city’s attorney, Jay Garrett, said they could not comment on the suit and the mayor did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Ponder said she was driving to Walmart when she passed an erratic driver on the road. When she parked at the Walmart, the driver, Michael Beane, started to yell at her and called her a “black b----.” Beane was a Commerce ISD School Board Trustee at the time; he also resigned following the incident. He was not able to be reached for comment but said in a statement in June 2017 he did not believe he or Crews did anything wrong. Ponder went inside Walmart to shop and when she came out, Crews was outside in plain clothes and showed her his badge. “Crews flashed his badge at Ms. Ponder and aggressively demanded that she apologize to the man who accosted her earlier using racial slurs,” the suit says. “Ms. Ponder responded that she only wanted to return to her vehicle and go home.”

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Bexar DA opts not to brief commissioners on removal of constable

With more than a dozen of her uniformed deputies standing behind her, Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable Michelle Barrientes Vela delivered a defiant speech Tuesday to county commissioners who had expected District Attorney Joe Gonzales to brief them on how to remove her from office.

Gonzales instead opted not to offer the briefing because his office already is defending the county and Vela in a civil lawsuit, and doing so could be seen as a conflict of interest. “We still represent her on the civil side, and because of that relationship, we think the best process is to wait,” Gonzales said Tuesday. “That doesn’t necessarily stop the process (of removal), especially if a private citizen decides to file a petition.”

County Judge Nelson Wolff had requested the briefing by Gonzales. Wolff’s request was spurred by recent actions undertaken by Vela, who allegedly shook down a family for cash at Rodriguez Park on Easter. She required them to pay her and a deputy $50 an hour for security despite the availability of peace officers already funded by the county. Vela also has tried to pursue criminal charges against one of her own deputies who filed employment complaints against her, sued her for sex discrimination and plans to run against her in 2020. Gonzales has declined to prosecute that deputy.

City Stories

San Antonio Express-News - May 21, 2019

Domestic violence questions at San Antonio mayoral forum prompt shouting matches

The first mayoral forum since San Antonio’s May elections grew heated Tuesday when moderators asked challenger Greg Brockhouse about domestic violence accusations against him, prompting outbursts and shouting matches between those in attendance at Travis Park Church downtown.

While the candidates were never on stage together, the contentious nature of Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Brockhouse’s runoff race was on display. The men appeared separately at the event, fielding questions from Rivard Report journalist Iris Dimmick and Pastor Gavin Rogers. The quarrels began about 30 minutes into the forum, when Rogers asked Brockhouse about reports from 2006 and 2009 in which women married to him called police and accused him of assault.

Brockhouse doubled down on his assertions that the event chronicled in a 2009 police report did not happen. He also read a statement from his wife in which she also flatly rejects the accusations. “It’s absolutely false,” he said.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Austin’s scooters could come under same rules as taxis

The Austin City Council on Thursday could create an unprecedented level of regulation governing electric rental scooters, putting the budding and controversial industry under the same rules applied to taxis.

Austin would be the first city in the U.S. to employ such a model, giving it broad authority over dockless scooter companies, such as Bird and Lime, that would provide avenues for kicking them out of the city. But even as city transportation staffers floated the idea Tuesday, when council members discussed an array of possible ordinances designed to update the city’s regulation of scooters, cracks started to show in the support for a franchise model that some industry insiders oppose.

“My instinct is not to support a franchise model,” Council Member Jimmy Flannigan said. “I think there are other ways to do this that won’t cause barriers to innovation.” A franchise model would give the council direct authority over which vendors can operate in the city. “We believe it could potentially negatively affect our ability to innovate,” said Tim Alborg, director of government partnerships at Spin, which operates 500 scooters in Austin. Currently, there’s no cap on the number of dockless operators in the city, of which there are 10. The city does have limits on the number of scooters each company can deploy. More than 14,600 scooters are in operation in Austin, according to the city.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 21, 2019

City of Fort Worth destroyed evidence in whistleblower case, employee alleges in memo

The city of Fort Worth destroyed information being sought by an attorney handling a fired IT manager’s whistleblower lawsuit, a city employee alleges in an affidavit. The allegation was made in a memo sent to city officials Monday by Rabiah Memon, a senior IT programmer analyst with the city since May 2015.

That memo and an affidavit by the city employee is the subject of a motion filed Tuesday in Dallas County by Stephen Kennedy, the attorney for William Birchett, seeking a temporary restraining order against the city to prevent it from destroying evidence. Birchett filed suit against the city of Fort Worth last week, alleging that he was fired in February in retaliation for reporting to officials that the city’s cybersecurity had been severely compromised and that, among other things, the city had lied about its compliance with FBI crime database regulations.

“It is my understanding that the city is supposed to protect and not delete any information that is related to Mr. William Birchett’s whistleblower case, however, unfortunately that has not been the case,” Memon wrote in the memo. Assistant City Manager Susan Alanis told the city council the allegations were “not factual.” “It is our belief that the City has complied with putting an appropriate legal hold on all pertinent records and the allegations are untrue,” she said in an email to the Star-Telegram. A hearing on the matter is set for Thursday.

National Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2019

Beto O'Rourke tries to jumpstart sputtering campaign on CNN town hall, pushing impeachment

After shunning national TV exposure for the first 70 days of his presidential effort and watching his poll numbers sink to near oblivion, El Paso's Beto O'Rourke grabbed the chance to reintroduce himself Tuesday night on a live CNN town hall.

He voiced impatience for impeachment, denounced the president's trade policies, and vowed to protect abortion rights and end the vilification of immigrants -- winning repeated applause from the audience at Drake University in Des Moines. Impeachment came up early, when Drake education professor Cris Wildermuth asked him for his stance. "We should begin impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. Not something that I take lightly," he said, waiting for applause to die down. Avoiding impeachment out of fear of political backlash, he added, would promote the idea that a president is "above the law."

Moderator Dana Bash followed up, noting that Speaker Nancy Pelosi continues to resist impeachment. "I understand the political implications of this but I think this moment calls for us to look beyond the politics and the polling and even the next election," O'Rourke said, arguing that impeachment is "the only way that we're going to be able to get the facts, the documents" to bring the truth of Trump's actions to light.

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2019

Ted Cruz spars with actor Jim Carrey after 'sick' cartoon of Alabama's anti-abortion governor

A simmering feud between actor Jim Carrey and Sen. Ted Cruz has hit full boil, with Cruz chastising the actor for a sketch depicting Alabama's anti-abortion governor as a doomed fetus and Carrey hitting back by calling him "greasy" and "shameless." The two have sparred via social media before, though the latest eruption is far more venomous.

He called the star of The Truman Show, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and Dumb and Dumber a "self-described socialist," and poked him for getting the vampire part backwards because "vampires are dead, and everyone knows the dead vote Democrat." The latest dust up began on Saturday, when Carrey posted a vivid, hand drawn cartoon on Twitter that showed a tube sucking the brain out of Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey's head.

New York Times - May 21, 2019

Democratic calls for impeachment inquiry grow as leaders instead vow to toughen tactics

A bloc of liberal Democrats began pressing Tuesday for an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, underscoring party divisions and the growing difficulties that Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces as she tries to chart a more methodical course.

Trump’s latest defiance of congressional oversight demands precipitated the break among Democrats. Former White House counsel Don McGahn, who had been called to testify Tuesday before the House Judiciary Committee about the president’s attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation, skipped the scheduled hearing after Trump ordered him to ignore lawmakers’ subpoena.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the committee chairman, promised to hold McGahn in contempt of Congress and warned other potential witnesses to expect new hardball tactics — like changing House rules to allow fines for people held in contempt — but he stopped short of publicly endorsing impeachment. House Democrats also continued to negotiate this week with the staff of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, over his own potential testimony, according to two people familiar with the conversations.

Bloomberg - May 21, 2019

Oil dips as trade standoff muddies outlook for economic growth

Oil closed lower amid warnings that the U.S.-China trade dispute may take an increasing toll on the economy. U.S. oil futures fluctuated between gains and losses on Tuesday, ending the session down 0.2%.

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren said the trade standoff is adding a downside risk to the central bank's forecasts, while the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development downgraded its projection for global growth. International benchmark Brent crude, meanwhile, finished the day 0.3% higher, as fighting in Saudi Arabia and Libya and a pipeline outage in Nigeria brought more reminders of the fragile state of supplies.

Oil has traded in a narrow band around $62 a barrel this month, as investor anticipation that OPEC and its allies may extend supply curbs has given the market some upward momentum. But rising crude stockpiles in the U.S. and the breakdown in trade talks between the world's two biggest economies has kept any rally in check. West Texas Intermediate crude for June delivery, which expires Tuesday, fell 11 cents to $62.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The more actively traded July contract was down 8 cents to $63.13.

Wall Street Journal - May 22, 2019

Trading a trade war: ‘Markets don’t appear ready for that’

How do you trade a trade war? A previously abstract question is becoming more pressing for investors as U.S.-China trade relations fray. “What we’ve learned the last few weeks is this is a genuine negotiation and both sides appear willing to escalate this,” said Michael Metcalfe, head of global macro strategy at State Street Global Markets. “It’s a credible threat and markets don’t appear ready for that.”

Some investors are shunning stocks with significant exposure to China, including in materials, technology and industrials. Among major tech stocks, Apple Inc. is down 7% in May, on pace for its worst month this year, while Google parent Alphabet Inc. has lost 3.7%. International investors sold shares listed in Shanghai and Shenzhen through a trading link in Hong Kong at a record pace in the 20 trading days through May 17. Through this trading link, foreigners had rarely sold mainland stocks on a net basis before.

UBS Group AG added more U.S. Treasurys to model portfolios used by clients after President Trump’s initial threats to raise tariffs, and cut its exposure to emerging-market hard-currency bonds. The shift “reduces some risk in the portfolio without giving up much upside if a trade agreement is reached,” said Mark Haefele, global chief investment officer of UBS’s wealth-management division. Escalating trade tensions have hurt the yuan, reviving questions about China’s willingness to use its currency as a tool of trade policy.

NPR - May 22, 2019

Liz Cheney's choice: House Or Senate?

Rep. Liz Cheney does not mince words, but when it comes to her own political ambitions, the Wyoming Republican has nothing to say right now. "I don't have any announcements to make about that," a tight-lipped Cheney told reporters at a recent press conference dominated by questions about her political future.

The question Cheney is weighing is whether or not to run for the Senate, prompted by GOP Sen. Mike Enzi's decision to retire in 2020. Cheney's ambition for the seat is well-known. She unsuccessfully tried to primary Enzi in 2014, in a short-lived bid marked by acrimony that divided the GOP — and her own family. But she stuck around, and her fortunes quickly rebounded. In 2016, she won Wyoming's only House seat.

Just two years later — and days after losing the majority — House Republicans voted Cheney into party leadership as House Republican Conference chairwoman, the third-highest ranking job in the minority. It's the same leadership job once held by her father, former vice president and Wyoming congressman, Dick Cheney. It's also the highest rank any Republican woman has ever reached in the House, and she'll walk away from a history-making chance to climb higher on the leadership ladder, potentially to speaker of the House, if she runs for the Senate.

Washington Post - May 21, 2019

No, maternal mortality did not spike in Texas after funding cuts to abortion clinics

“Anti-abortion bills increase maternal mortality and infant mortality. Texas is the best case. The reported rate of maternal deaths in Texas doubled when the state closed their abortion clinics and cut funding for Planned Parenthood. The fact is that if Texas was a country it would have the highest maternal mortality rate of any developed country in the world." — Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), in remarks at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on maternal mortality, May 16, 2019

Many times, the corrections receive far less attention than the original headline. Here’s a good example. In arguing that laws that limit abortion rights increase maternal and infant mortality, Rep. Beyer cited some alarming data about Texas and asked a witness about the connection between the two. The witness, Lisa Hollier, the immediate past president and interim chief executive of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, sidestepped the question.

But, in as polite a way as possible, she told Beyer that his data was bunk. She should know: She chairs the Texas task force that examined the original findings that were quoted by Beyer. “When we analyzed the data, we identified there was significant over-reporting of deaths based on the death certificate data,” she testified, saying the death certificates were not accurate and so the maternal mortality rate was “not as high as previously reported.” When The Fact Checker contacted Beyer’s office, the lawmaker immediately admitted error. “We weren’t trying to deceive people here, we just hadn’t seen the subsequent reporting on the study in question,” said Aaron Fritschner, Beyer’s communications director. “An honest mistake.”

CNN - May 22, 2019

Schiff cancels 'enforcement' meeting after Justice Department offers to share Mueller documents

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff is scrapping a Wednesday morning meeting intended to take an "enforcement action" against the Justice Department after it agreed to begin providing the committee with counterintelligence documents from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

The decision to postpone the business meeting –– where Schiff was threatened to take an unspecified action against Attorney General William Barr for not complying with the committee's subpoena for Mueller's counterintelligence materials –– is a rare sign of the Trump administration and a House panel successfully negotiating around a Democratic subpoena for documents.

The development also is a significant boost to Schiff in his effort to view the special counsel's investigative materials beyond what was contained in the public Mueller report, especially given the Trump administration's typical stance of all-out resistance to Democrats' subpoenas and investigative requests.

May 21, 2019

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2019

To avoid infighting in the Texas House, did Speaker Dennis Bonnen kill controversial bills?

As the House heatedly debated a contentious bill late Friday that would prohibit municipalities from contracting with organizations that provide abortions, such as Planned Parenthood, Democrats in the chamber were preparing for more acrimonious battles in the last week of a legislative session that’s been characterized by its mild-tempered and collaborative tone.

Earlier that day, House committees voted out controversial bills that would make it harder to remove Confederate monuments from public places, prohibit cities from requiring private employers to provide paid sick leave, and stiffen penalties for providing false information on a voter registration application. All of those bills were still eligible to be placed on the chamber’s agenda before an important procedural deadline Tuesday, as long as they made it through the House Calendars Committee over the weekend. But by Sunday night, when the committee met to set the agenda for Tuesday’s calendar, none of those Republican-authored bills made the list, leaving them all but dead very late in the session.

For Democrats, the exclusion was a gift — a way to avoid fights they were almost certainly going to lose without having to bitterly battle their Republican counterparts. For the bill authors, it was a let-down, a frustrating end to legislation they had spent months crafting. And for political observers, it left a lingering question: Why? The answer could be found in conversations late Friday between Democratic and Republican leaders in the chamber to end the caustic hours-long debate over the Planned Parenthood bill. Democrats had a multitude of amendments to offer, which would delay discussion on other pieces of legislation that were on the calendar after it.

Texas Monthly - May 21, 2019

The culture wars come roaring back in the closing days of the Texas Legislature

So much for a kumbaya session. For most of the 86th Texas Legislature, things proceeded in an almost refreshingly dull fashion. Just a week ago, Ross Ramsey of the Texas Tribune—or at least his headline-writer—called it an “unexciting, no drama, very humdrum session."

What a difference a week makes. The generally harmonious atmosphere—fostered in part by an election that scared the GOP as well as the focus on complex, but important issues such as school finance and property taxes—has now been thoroughly poisoned by a slew of culture-wars legislation that animates social conservatives and angers Democrats. Discussion over what to do about rising property taxes and a broken school finance system marked most of the legislative session.

The culture wars—embodied by the circus in 2017 over Patrick’s “bathroom bills”—seemed to have cooled. Social conservatives seemed cowed by how poorly many of their stalwarts fared in November. The kumbaya-spoiler came Friday in the form of Senate Bill 22, which forbids local government from partnering with abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, even for services that have nothing to do with abortion. The bill received tentative approval in the House late Friday after six hours of contentious debate. (Because of an amendment tacked onto the bill, the Senate must reconsider the legislation before sending it onto Abbott, who has said he welcomes anti-abortion legislation.)

Bloomberg - May 20, 2019

US Census vulnerable to Russian meddling, top official warns

The U.S. Census Bureau is concerned the Russian government could hack into data collected in the 2020 Census, in a similar way to how it interfered in the 2016 presidential election, a top bureau official said.

“Most of the agencies of the federal government that ingest data are very concerned about interference in the process of taking the 2020 census,” said John Abowd, chief scientist at the U.S. Census Bureau. “We are very concerned about this and very concerned about developing appropriate defenses,” he told a Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta conference in Amelia Island, Fla.

Government chief information officers and security staffers are meeting regularly to assess threats and make preparations for detecting them, Abowd said. The bureau is working with Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, where a team of about 20 people is focused on securing the system and gaming out possible hacks, the Washington Post reported in April.

Daily Sun - May 21, 2019

'What's going on with Fox?' Trump complains his favorite network is 'putting more Democrats on than Republicans'

President Donald Trump thinks 'something strange is going on' at Fox News Channel with the recent influx of Democrat town halls. At a campaign rally in Montoursville, Pennsylvania Monday night Trump said that he was assessing the Democratic competition, but admitted he didn't like Fox News giving the 2020 candidates more air time.

There are 24 candidates already running in the 2020 Democratic primaries, and three have appeared on the network so far to participate in town hall events. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the latest candidate to appear on Fx News on Sunday night. Trump chastised the network for allowing the candidate to bash some of its prime time hosts as a guest on the network.

'What's going on with Fox, by the way? What's going on there?' Trump asked the audience that was half inside and half outside of the Williamsport Regional Airport. 'They're putting more Democrats on than you have Republicans. Something strange is going at Fox, folks – something very strange.' 'Did you see this guy last night?' Trump said, making reference to Buttigieg's town hall. 'I did want to watch, you always have to watch the competition, if you call it that. And he was knocking the hell out of Fox, and Fox just put him there. Somebody is going to have to explain the whole Fox deal to me.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2019

Texas to get new tools to crack down on unsafe day care centers

The Texas Health and Human Services Commission will soon have more tools to crack down on unsafe day cares thanks to a bill approved Monday night by the Texas House. Senate Bill 568 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, increases fines the state can levy on child care centers and homes that violate safety rules.

Rep. Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, who carried the bill in the House, said it “strengthens the Health and Human Services Commission’s regulations as they pertain to child care facilities in order to protect children ... and to ensure that our facilities are safe and held responsible.”

An amendment by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, which was approved Monday without objection, will require the agency to report back in two years on the effect that the new regulatory tools have on the availability and affordability of child care in Texas. The bill will now head back to the Senate, which previously approved it on a 30-1 vote; senators have the option of accepting the Frank amendment or negotiating a compromise between the two versions before it heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2019

Austin billionaire Robert F. Smith is wiping out Morehouse graduates’ debt

Robert F. Smith, the billionaire who shocked the 2019 graduating class at Morehouse College by announcing he would wipe out all of its student debt, has quietly built his powerhouse global investment firm from a headquarters in downtown Austin.

Smith, the CEO of Vista Equity Partners, stunned students during his commencement address Sunday with the gift, which is estimated to be worth $40 million. The 56-year-old investor, who has a net worth of $5 billion, according to Forbes, co-founded Vista Equity Partners in 2000 with a focus on investing in software companies. The private equity group manages about $46 billion in investments with a portfolio of more than 50 software companies that employ 60,000 people worldwide, according to the firm’s website.

Smith ranks 355th on Forbes’ Billionaires 2019 list. A profile of Smith published by Forbes in 2018 said he was the nation’s richest African American. Vista, which has offices at the Frost Bank Tower at 112 E. Fourth St., has invested in several Austin-based tech companies, including legal information services firm Mitratech, human relations software provider Kazoo and online marketing firm Main Street Hub, which was acquired by internet hosting giant GoDaddy last year for $125 million in cash.

Austin American-Statesman - May 20, 2019

Texas Senate adopts income tax prohibition

Texas voters will decide in November if they want to bar the imposition of an income tax, following approval of the constitutional amendment by the state Senate on Monday. The Texas House had approved House Joint Resolution 38, which prohibits the imposition of an individual income tax, earlier this month.

The seemingly anodyne proposal ran into pushback Monday from some Senate Democrats who suggested the bill could cut business taxes, a major source of state money. There appears to be no threat of an income tax currently — no such bill appears to have been filed, let alone have reached the floor of either chamber, where it would be political kryptonite. And a 1993 constitutional amendment already holds that Texas can adopt a state income tax only if voters approve and that the money would go for the “support of education.”

But Senate Democrats on Monday sparred with Republicans over a seemingly arcane bit of language that could carry big budget implications. The resolution says that the Legislature may not impose a net income tax on “individuals.” Democrats, pointing to an analysis by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Budget Board, said that could be interpreted by courts to apply to businesses, especially because the measure’s language uses that term rather than “natural persons,” which is often used in statutes. The business levy, long a target of Republicans eager to shave taxes, brings in about $8 billion per biennium, helping to fund public schools.

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2019

Keep springing forward, falling back: Vote on daylight saving or standard time dies in Texas Senate

A House-approved plan to stop Texans from having to change clocks twice a year and let them pick either daylight saving or standard time year-round is dead. On Monday, author Rep. Lyle Larson said he was "very disappointed" that his proposal was "summarily dismissed by the Senate."

Though Larson's proposed constitutional amendment and an enabling bill easily cleared the House last month, the idea of letting voters weigh in on clock changes never gained traction in the Senate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick didn't refer either Larson measure to a Senate committee. As end-of-session deadlines approached, Patrick's inaction all but killed them.

Also, Senate State Affairs Committee chairwoman Joan Huffman, R-Houston, sat on two Senate-authored measures. One, by San Antonio Democratic Sen. José Menéndez, would have abolished daylight saving time. The other, by Houston GOP Sen. Paul Bettencourt, would have let voters decide on keeping or ditching daylight saving time for good. Huffman never gave either a hearing. "She said no 'time bills' were going to be heard. That's her public policy decision," Bettencourt recounted from a conversation with Huffman.

Dallas Morning News - May 21, 2019

Rep. Van Taylor of Plano is not like other Congress members as he works to be ‘Mr. Bipartisan’

Freshman Rep. Van Taylor of Plano is without question a conservative Republican. But watching him work the House floor, you might not know it, because he spends much of his time working the other side of the aisle. That’s not uncommon in Austin, where Taylor served in the state House and Senate for eight years before heading to Congress. In the Legislature, lawmakers in both parties routinely work together.

In Austin, lawmakers are assigned desks on the floor of each chamber based on seniority, regardless of party. Taylor’s first Democratic deskmate was Beaumont Rep. Joe Deshotel in 2013. In the U.S. House, there are no assigned seats or desks, and the center aisle marks a clear border. Republicans spend their time to the left, looking out from the rostrum, with Democrats mingling among themselves across the aisle. “The fact that there is a Republican side and a Democrat side on the House floor is something I still can’t quite wrap my head around,” Taylor said about Washington.

On each side, though, freshmen and veterans alike tend to claim favorite spots. Rep. Kay Granger of Fort Worth, the senior Republican on the powerful Appropriations Committee, sits toward the back of the GOP side with other Texans. Across the aisle, Dallas Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson can usually be found in one of the first few rows. Taylor is all over the place.

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2019

'Save Chick-fil-A' bill approved by Texas House, despite emotional pleas from LGBT members

A bill cast by conservatives as religious freedom protection and by liberals as a tool to discriminate against LGBT people was tentatively passed by the Texas House on Monday. The "Save Chick-fil-A" bill needs one more procedural vote from the House before it heads back to the Senate for final approval of a House amendment.

Then it goes to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for his signature or veto. Senate Bill 1978 passed by a 79-62 vote; Houston-area Republican Rep. Sarah Davis broke with her party to oppose it. Fort Worth GOP Rep. Matt Krause, the House sponsor, said the bill stops the government from taking adverse action against a business or person for their contributions or memberships in religious organizations.

The bill was born out of the city of San Antonio's vote to boot Chick-fil-A from the airport based on its charitable donations to certain Christian organizations. Chick-fil-A's nonprofit arm also donates to the "Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Christian residential home" that teaches young boys that same-sex marriage is a "rage against Jesus Christ and his values," according to recent articles that shed light on the donor activity.

Texas Lawyer - May 20, 2019

Texas attorney-politician committed malpractice, wins do-over on $3 million award to litigation funder

McAllen attorney and State Rep. Sergio Munoz Jr., D-Mission, committed legal malpractice when representing a New York-based litigation financing company, but a district court erred when it awarded $2.99 million in damages for Munoz’s negligence, according to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The Fifth Circuit remanded the case, The Law Funder v. Munoz, to the district court for a new trial on damages. The good news for Munoz: The appellate panel found the district court improperly awarded attorney fees that the litigation financier, The Law Funder, incurred before it ever hired him.

The bad: The Fifth Circuit upheld the default judgment against Munoz, potentially leaving the attorney on the hook for any fees the company paid because of his negligence. Munoz might also have to forfeit more than $21,000 the company paid him for his services, plus $1.2 million The Law Funder claims it could have won in the underlying matter. Munoz didn’t return a call or email seeking comment before deadline, and neither did his lawyer, San Antonio solo practitioner John Carroll.

San Antonio Express-News - May 20, 2019

Cenotaph still set to move after monument bill dies

A historic monuments bill that would have blocked relocation of the 1930s Alamo Cenotaph — and possibly interfered with its repair — died this week in the Legislature, clearing the way for the city of San Antonio to proceed with the move as part of a major Alamo Plaza overhaul.

The debate over moving the monument about 500 feet south has been one of the most contentious issues in a public-private project to build a museum and convert Alamo Plaza into an open interpretive space, free of traffic and the six-story, monolithic Cenotaph. The monument honoring the fallen Alamo defenders sits at the north end of the plaza, where it was dedicated in 1940 as part of the Texas centennial.

Design experts and scholars have long argued that the Cenotaph depicting David Crockett and other defenders in statues carved by Italian-born sculptor Pompeo Coppini is out of scale and context with the mission-era Alamo church and Long Barrack. But in the past two years, as the city, state and nonprofit Alamo Endowment have worked on an Alamo plan that would move the monument, a group of passionate Texans have vehemently pushed back, chanting, “Not one inch!” at public meetings.

Texas Observer - May 20, 2019

The $9 billion school finance problem in Speaker Bonnen’s backyard

There’s a $9 billion (and growing) problem looming in the backyard of House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. That problem is formally known as Chapter 313. As Texas’ largest corporate welfare program, it allows school districts to give big corporations steep discounts on property taxes for up to 13 years as a way to incentivize businesses to set up shop in the state.

The forgone property tax revenue that districts would have used to fund their share of educating kids is covered by the state. Such abatements have rapidly expanded in size and scope in recent years. By 2023, Chapter 313 — the program’s section in the state tax code — is projected by the state comptroller to cost Texas more than $1 billion a year in lost revenue. The more than 400 deals that are currently active are estimated to siphon $9.6 billion from state coffers over their lifespan.

In effect, the state is spending more and more of the money meant for cash-strapped Texas schools on subsidizing industry. At a time when lawmakers are scrambling to come up with the money to fund a major school-finance overhaul, Dick Lavine, the state’s foremost Chapter 313 critic, thinks it’s more important than ever to take a close look at the program, especially with its scheduled expiration date coming up in 2022. In short, Lavine thinks that ending or significantly curtailing the scope of the program is essential to any sort of long-term solution that increases the state’s diminishing share of education funding and reduces inequity between school districts.

Associated Press and KERA - May 20, 2019

DFW Airport's Terminal F will open up to 24 new gates

A new terminal full of gates is coming to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Terminal F, the airport's sixth, is expected to open by 2025 and provide up to 24 new gates for U.S. and international flights. DFW airport CEO Sean Donohue announced plans for Terminal F on Monday. The airport currently has 164 gates spread across five terminals.

Design work for Terminal F will begin immediately. The new terminal will be constructed south of Terminal D. The airport plans to spend up to $3.5 billion in terminal work, which will include the construction of Terminal F and enhancements to Terminal C. DFW has been growing, inching closer to busier airports such as Atlanta. Donohue says DFW has more than doubled its passenger-carrying capacity to international destinations since 2010.

DFW is American Airlines' largest hub airport. The airline opened 15 new gates at DFW on May 3 in Terminal E, which will let it add more than 100 daily flights on its American Eagle affiliate. In other news about Terminal E, later this summer it will be home to the airport's only Whataburger.

KUT - May 20, 2019

Could a potential Whataburger sale change the way we eat burgers in Texas?

Whataburger ranks No. 7 among the country's Top 10 burger chains. But here in Texas, few brands, burger or otherwise, inspire as much loyalty. News that the company has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to "explore our options," which it said in a statement to the San Antonio Business Journal, has many fans worried about its future. Whataburger's motivation isn't clear, but expansion could be on the menu.

Gary Wilcox is a media and marketing professor at The University of Texas at Austin's Stan Richards School of Advertising & Public Relations. He says loyalty and quality account for Whataburger's success. "I've grown up having Whataburgers since I was a little kid," Wilcox says. "And they still taste the same to me. And so, when you think about a brand that delivers on its promise, that's a brand that really does do that."

Like Whataburger in Texas, In-N-Out Burger, based in California, counts the loyalty of its fans as one of its greatest assets. But In-N-Out has opened a number of Texas locations, which could be part of the reason that Whataburger is looking to try something new. Wilcox says the expansions of two other Texas-based chains – Schlotzsky's and Taco Cabana – could be cautionary tales for Whataburger. Some say they expanded too quickly, to their detriment.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2019

Harris County Flood Control aims to prevent repeat flooding at Barbara Bush Library

Although the Barbara Bush Library has reopened after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 when the library received feet of floodwater, Harris County Flood Control District is working to ensure the library will not flood again.

During the latest meeting of the Barbara Bush Library Friends, a nonprofit organization with the mission of improving and volunteering for the Barbara Bush Library, Harris County Precinct 4 representatives told the crowd about plans for floodplains and flood prevention for the library and surrounding areas.

Will Sherman, property manager for HCFCD, said HCFCD is deciding where to build detention basins to mitigate flooding. In August 2018, HCFCD received approval for a $2.5 billion bond to mitigate flooding and upgrade flood prevention methods in the greater Houston area. Sherman said HCFCD is currently working on floodplain preservation by buying undeveloped land and buying homes from residents in floodplains if they volunteer to do sell. Sherman said there are no mandatory buyout programs in the nearby area at this moment. The area surrounding Barbara Bush Library is in both the 100-year and 500-year floodplains.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2019

Dallas vows not to remove Confederate War Memorial for 14 days as case reaches courtroom

On Monday, at least, Chris Carter got what he wanted: a promise from Dallas City Hall that it would not remove the Confederate War Memorial in the next 14 days. That, clearly, is not all Carter wants. Carter — along with Karen Pieroni of the United Daughters of the Confederacy — is suing the city to keep the 1897 monument standing in front of Dallas' downtown convention center forever and ever.

Moyé ultimately declined to grant Carter's request, filed Friday, for a temporary restraining order. The judge saw no need after the city's attorney, Charles Estee, said the memorial would stand in place for at least the next two weeks. The city will spend that time finishing negotiations with the winning bidder for the estimated $500,000 removal job. The two-week promise was fine with Carter. He will take every additional second he can get.

Carter became the monument's most vocal and visible defender during 21 months' worth of task force hearings and City Council and Landmark Commission meetings. He vowed to sue last week just before the City Plan Commission refused to overturn the Landmark Commission's vote to uphold the City Council's decision to have the memorial removed from public grounds.

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2019

Before Muhlaysia Booker was killed, she was 'looking forward' to life after brutal assault, friends say

With police offering no new details Monday about the fatal shooting of Muhlaysia Booker, her family and friends tried to focus on the life she led before a brutal beating made her a face of the struggle to protect trans people from violence.

Her death — about a month after she was the victim of a mob attack — sparked demands for justice from transgender people and their allies. Police have said they have no evidence tying the man charged in the April attack to Booker's death. Since Booker was identified as the woman who was found facedown Saturday on a street in Far East Dallas, her loved ones have remained in a daze.

Her father, Peirre Booker, hadn’t eaten since he got the news, his sister Quan Booker said Monday in a brief phone call. Even as they mourned her death, Muhlaysia Booker’s friends and family celebrated the strong-willed 22-year-old. “She lived in her truth,” said Preston Dupree, who described himself as a mentor to Booker. “She was honest, no matter how you took it. She had a backbone. She stood up for what she believed, period.” She remained resilient, even after the highly publicized assault on her, he said.

San Antonio Express-News - May 20, 2019

Progressive stronghold embodies San Antonio’s political divide

About 24 hours before Councilman Greg Brockhouse pushed him into a runoff, Mayor Ron Nirenberg took the stage at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre downtown to welcome Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings and give him a green-glowing digital key to the city.

The crowd of about 760 — a mix of young techies, entrepreneurs and other “creatives” — excitedly called out and hooted as the mayor settled in behind the podium. They were Nirenberg’s people. If it had been up to this audience alone, Nirenberg would have trounced Brockhouse in the May 4 election. The council district where the theater is located and where many in the audience live, work and play came out big for the mayor. District 1 voters chose Nirenberg by 65 percent to Brockhouse’s 28 percent. Among the 10 council districts, it was Nirenberg’s best showing on election day and Brockhouse’s worst.

San Antonio is changing fast in the center city. With the construction of more than 7,000 downtown apartments and condos over the past decade — not to mention the blazing housing market in neighborhoods ringing downtown — its new residents are younger, better educated and, frequently, more affluent than San Antonians as a whole. In broad strokes: They desire a denser, closer-in, more walkable city — rejecting the kind of sprawling suburbs they grew up in — and a convenient, fully formed mass transit system because many of them don’t own cars. They turn out to hear what a tech billionaire has to say, and many of them are sympathetic to his argument that the solution to underperforming public schools is to chip in for private, nonprofit charter schools.

San Antonio Express-News - May 20, 2019

Activists call on Brockhouse to address domestic violence allegations

After simmering in the background for weeks, the issue of domestic violence was thrust to the forefront of the San Antonio mayoral campaign Monday. A newly formed group of activists demanded that candidate Greg Brockhouse address in detail two incidents in which women married to him have accused him of assault.

The Brockhouse campaign responded that one of the group’s leaders was in no position to criticize the councilman because she herself was charged with assaulting an ex-boyfriend in 2007. In the first incident, Brockhouse’s second wife, Christine Rivera, from whom he was separated, told police he assaulted her April 29, 2006, when he returned to their home on the Northwest Side to retrieve some belongings.

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2019

State of the city: Turner announces park plan, renews pitch for transit, startups

Mayor Sylvester Turner used his fourth annual State of the City address Monday to announce a plan aimed at drawing private investment to city parks in underserved areas, while casting the state of the city as "strong, resilient and sustainable," a depiction his mayoral opponents swiftly rejected.

Turner, who is up for re-election in November, also renewed his call for a multimodal transit system with rail and bus rapid transit, urging residents to give Metro borrowing authority for its long-term plan in November. The agency is expected to put a multi-billion-dollar bond request on the ballot. "This is not the city of the 1990s," Turner said. "This city has changed. The region is changing. People are demanding multimodal options, and we have to give it to them."

During his speech and subsequent "fireside chat" with H-E-B president Scott McClelland, Turner largely rehashed points and ideas he already has floated, including ones used at early stops on the campaign trail. Speaking to a packed crowd of elected officials, city staff and the business community, the mayor pitched Houston as a prime location for technology startups, touting steps the city has taken to expand its tech presence. He acknowledged that "Silicon Bayou" has played catch-up to other cities that were faster to attract talent.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 20, 2019

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald fired Monday

Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald has been fired after a culmination of problems including a heated confrontation in Washington, D.C. and failed attempt to get a job in Baltimore, city officials announced on Monday. City Manager David Cooke said he determined a change in leadership was necessary for the citizens of Fort Worth and the men and women of the Fort Worth Police Department.

Executive Assistant Chief Edwin Kraus has been designated as interim chief of police. Fitzgerald said he was notified Monday afternoon by Cooke and had no advanced warning. He declined to say what Cooke told him in their conversation, but said the reason given was “nothing that is in any way valid.”

Stephen Kennedy, a Dallas-based attorney, said he will represent Fitzgerald and has plans to file a formal letter with the city’s attorney to seek an administrative appeal. Kennedy is also representing a recently fired IT manager is his lawsuit against the city. Cooke said conversations had been happening last week about firing the chief, and that Fitzgerald was given an opportunity to resign and he didn’t. Cooke said he assumes every employee has a chance to appeal.

Austin American-Statesman - May 21, 2019

Austin ISD board adopts principles to guide school closures

At midnight Tuesday, Austin district trustees adopted principles that will guide how to tackle school closures. The board discussed the adopted goals for more than two hours, with debates growing contentious at times. District leaders have said the goals are aimed at taking a districtwide approach toward closures and to ensure schools aren’t consolidated primarily because they have low enrollment.

The principles also ensure students have equitable access to academic programs and families continue to have the ability to choose other school programs across the district. “The purpose of this document is to ensure that the school change process is implemented with thought and care around issues of equity, customer services, student success and the academic vision that all students in Austin ISD deserve the highest quality schools, teachers and coursework,” said Trustee Amber Elenz.

But some trustees said they felt the document need to be more explicit in its protection of low-income students of color. Last week, the district also released a planning map showing five regions that will be also be used in determining how to consolidate schools. The map orients the regions in east-to-west swatches across the city of Austin to help ensure that school closures don’t occur solely in historically marginalized areas of the district.

National Stories

Washington Post - May 20, 2019

Pelosi's leadership team strikes rebellious tone, presses her to begin impeachment inquiry

Members of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's own leadership team confronted her in a contentious Monday night meeting and argued that it was time to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, according to sources in the room.

At least five members of Pelosi's leadership team - four who also sit on the House Judiciary Committee with jurisdiction over impeachment - pressed Pelosi to allow the panel to start the inquiry, which they argued would help investigators attain documents and testimony Trump has blocked. Pelosi, according to sources in the room, pushed back on the idea with senior leaders, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Pelosi has also long been an impeachment skeptic and tried to tamp down impeachment talk in her caucus as recently as last week by encouraging members to focus on their legislative agenda.

The meeting underscores the first time Pelosi's rank-and-file lawmakers - including members of her leadership team - have lobbied her to change her long-held position on impeachment. Judiciary members for days have discussed how to move the speaker toward their thinking, but few have been willing to break with her publicly. However, a core group of Judiciary Democrats on Tuesday plans to begin calling for an impeachment inquiry if former White House counsel Don McGahn does not show for subpoenaed testimony at 10 a.m., according to sources familiar with the plan. The White House on Monday moved to block McGahn from showing up, arguing that he is exempt from testimony.

Washington Post - May 20, 2019

Trump uses economic argument to take on Biden in Pennsylvania

President Donald Trump mocked former Vice President Joe Biden for his views on trade and focus on foreign policy, taking aim Monday at the Democrat leading the polls in the state Biden has made his proving ground for defeating Trump next year.

He touted an economic turnaround on his watch, saying Pennsylvania now has historically low unemployment that no political competitor could best. Trump's "Make America Great Again" rally at an airport hangar in this small north-central Pennsylvania town was nominally a show of support for Republican state Rep. Fred Keller, the heavy favorite in a special election Tuesday to fill the congressional seat vacated in January by Tom Marino, a Republican who had just been reelected to his fifth term.

Penn State professor Marc Friedenberg, who lost to Marino in 2018 by 32 points, is also the Democratic candidate this time. Trump won the district by 36 points in 2016. With Keller's victory in this solidly Republican area all but assured, Trump's visit was more about leveraging his strong support in the Republican midsection of Pennsylvania, where his overwhelming victory in 2016 powered him to a statewide victory with a margin of less than 1%. Trump will need to repeat or best that performance in 2020 to again take a state that voted Democratic in the six presidential elections immediately preceding 2016. Pennsylvania, with 20 electoral college votes, is considered one of the best chances for a Democratic reversal in 2020.

Politico - May 19, 2019

O'Rourke stocks campaign with Obama and Clinton alums

Beto O’Rourke is adding a pair of seasoned strategists to his campaign, injecting a measure of establishment credibility that was lacking in his improvisational Senate bid against Ted Cruz last year.

Lauren Brainerd, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s field director in 2018, has been hired as national organizing director. And Lise Clavel, who worked in former Vice President Joe Biden’s office as director of public engagement and for Barack Obama's 2012 reelection, has been named states director, campaign sources told POLITICO. The moves are an attempt by O’Rourke to shift toward a more mainstream operation after a Senate run in which his campaign focused heavily — almost indiscriminately — on voter turnout.

Though O’Rourke’s effort in Texas resulted in a closer-than-expected loss to Cruz, his advisers have acknowledged that campaigning against a field of other high-profile Democrats will require a more precise targeting of voters, especially in early-nominating states. O’Rourke’s efforts to bring veteran staffers on board has come as a relief to supporters who feared his unorthodox campaign in Texas — largely an effort to turn out hundreds of thousands of inactive voters — lacked the discipline necessary for a presidential campaign.

Associated Press - May 20, 2019

Judge sides with Congress over Trump in demands for records

A federal judge ruled against President Donald Trump on Monday in a financial records dispute with Congress and said lawmakers should get the documents they have subpoenaed. Trump called it a "crazy" decision that his lawyers would appeal.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta comes amid a widespread effort by the White House and Trump's attorneys to refuse to cooperate with congressional requests for information and records. Earlier Monday, Trump directed former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena that had compelled McGahn, a pivotal figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

In ruling that Trump cannot block the financial records subpoena, Mehta said the Democratic-led House Oversight and Reform Committee had "valid legislative purposes" for its request and that it was not for him "to question whether the Committee's actions are truly motivated by political considerations." The committee has said the records will help it consider whether to strengthen ethics and disclosure laws, among other things, said Mehta, who was nominated to the bench by President Barack Obama.

Wall Street Journal - May 21, 2019

US slows hiring of Chinese nationals by chip makers

The U.S. has sharply slowed approvals for the nation’s semiconductor companies to hire Chinese nationals for advanced engineering jobs, according to industry insiders, who say the delays are limiting access to vital talent.

The disruption, which started last year, has affected hundreds of jobs across the industry at companies including Intel Corp., Qualcomm Inc. and Globalfoundries Inc., impeding their ability to hire Chinese employees or move existing employees to key projects in the U.S., these people said. It is significant in part because Chinese nationals account for a large share of non-U.S. citizens hired for such technical roles, where the talent supply domestically is often scarce.

Under rules in place for decades, companies must get licenses before assigning workers with foreign nationalities—Chinese, Iranian, Russian among others—to work on a list of sensitive technologies. Because companies are giving foreigners knowledge about technology they could eventually take home, the Commerce Department considers such assignments the equivalent of an export. Approvals for so-called deemed-export licenses once took a matter of weeks, whereas a wait of six to eight months isn’t unusual today, a person familiar with the process said.

KUT - May 20, 2019

Teenager is latest migrant child to die in US custody

A 16-year-old migrant boy has become the fifth migrant child since December to die after being apprehended at the U.S. border. In a statement, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said the boy, whose name was not released, was "found unresponsive" during a routine welfare check Monday morning at Weslaco Station, the facility where he was being held.

The boy was taken into custody after crossing the U.S. border in Texas' Rio Grande Valley on May 13, and was due to be moved into custody of the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement, which oversees care of unaccompanied or separated migrant children after they are initially processed by immigration authorities. The cause of death is unknown and the incident is being reviewed by CBP's Office of Professional Responsibility.

Acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner John Sanders said the agency "is committed to the health, safety and humane treatment of those in our custody." The CBP says it "will ensure an independent and thorough review of the circumstances." Migrants from Guatemala are often fleeing poverty and violence there, and over the last few months several Guatemalan children have died after crossing the border into the U.S.

Law and Crime - May 21, 2019

Conservative SCOTUS Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch disagreed on three decisions in one day

After Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh seemed to upset the court’s partisan balance by voting with the court’s liberal bloc of justices in last week’s Apple v. Pepper decision, Monday’s opinions from the high court showed that its conservative justices are not as like-minded as previously billed or assumed.

The proof? President Donald Trump’s two appointments to the bench, Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, disagreed on three separate decisions in one day. Each case dealt with a different area of law, and each sparked disagreement between the most recently minted SCOTUS justices. In Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. v. Albrecht, the two conservative justices we now discuss ultimately reached the same judgment, but with marked differences in their rationales. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the court’s opinion, joined by Gorsuch, Justice Clarence Thomas, and the court’s remaining three liberals. Kavanaugh, on the other hand, joined a concurring opinion by Justice Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.

In Herrera v. Wyoming, Gorsuch joined a 5-4 decision penned by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in which the court’s liberal bloc found that a treaty entered into by the Crow Tribe regarding hunting rights on land in present-day Wyoming and Montana remained in effect — despite Wyoming’s subsequent statehood. In Mission Product Holdings v. Tempnology LLC, Justice Gorsuch was the lone dissenter in an 8-1 opinion penned by Justice Elena Kagan. The opinion held that a rejection of an executory contract by a bankruptcy debtor is effectually the same as a breach of that contract outside bankruptcy, and therefore cannot rescind the rights and obligations previously granted by the contract.

May 20, 2019

Lead Stories

Washington Post - May 20, 2019

The little-noticed surge across the U.S.-Mexico border: It’s Americans heading south

President Trump regularly assails the flow of migrants crossing the Mexican border into the United States. Less noticed has been the surge of people heading in the opposite direction.

Mexico’s statistics institute estimated this month that the U.S.-born population in this country has reached 799,000 — a roughly fourfold increase since 1990. And that is probably an undercount. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico City estimates the real number at 1.5 million or more. They’re a mixed group. They’re digital natives who can work just as easily from Puerto Vallarta as Palo Alto. They’re U.S.-born kids — nearly 600,000 of them — who’ve returned with their Mexican-born parents. And they’re retirees like Guzmán, who settled in this city five years ago and is now basically the pickleball king of San Miguel.

If the thousands of Mexicans moving home are taken into account, the flow of migrants from the United States to Mexico is probably larger than the flow of Mexicans to the United States. The American immigrants are pouring money into local economies, renovating historic homes and changing the dynamics of Mexican classrooms. “It’s beginning to become a very important cultural phenomenon,” Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, said in an interview. “Like the Mexican community in the United States.”

Rio Grande Guardian - May 19, 2019

Feds urge Texas to help fund Census 2020 outreach

The State of California has allotted $100 million to help get an accurate count in next year’s census. This is in sharp contrast to the State of Texas, which has so far committed zero dollars. The City of Houston is committed to spending $6 million, with $800,000 earmarked for kiosks.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the cities of McAllen and Harlingen have each allocated $25,000 for census outreach work, while Weslaco has allocated $10,000 this year and $15,000 next year. Cameron County has allocated $25,000 this fiscal year, and $120,000 next year.These and other statistics about the 2020 Census were relayed to McAllen Economic Development Corporation by Ana Leonard, partnership coordinator in the Dallas regional census center.

Census Day is April 1, 2020. Securing an accurate census count is important for cities and states because a lot of federal funding is allocated based on population. “The State of Texas receives $43 billion in federal funding every year. That is approximately $1,578 per person in your community. If you multiply $1,578 by four for a family of four and then multiply it by ten, that is the amount of money you stand to lose for your family if they are not counted,” Leonard said. “So, it is very important that we receive the federal funds that we are entitled to, based on our count.”

Texas Monthly - May 17, 2019

Is a proposed ban on a state income tax really a stealth move to undermine the state’s business tax?

The proposed ban on a personal income tax that’s flying through the Legislature may also blow a hole in the state’s business franchise tax—a tax that Governor Greg Abbott has said he wants to put in “a coffin.”

On Friday, Senator Kirk Watson, D-Austin, questioned whether the real purpose of the income-tax ban was to undermine the state’s business tax, calling the proposal a “stalking horse.” If Watson’s right, the state could lose billions of dollars in revenue and decrease the chances of property tax relief in the future. In the previous two legislative session, Abbott called for seriously reducing or eliminating the franchise tax, but the effort failed because the tax just produces too much money—a little more than $7.4 billion for every two-year state budget.

This year, Abbott tried a new tack. Instead of eliminating the business tax, he proposed cutting school property taxes by increasing the state sales tax by 1 percent, which give Texas the highest sales tax rate in the country, along with California. That turned into one of the biggest legislative belly flops in recent memory. But if you are a legislator who wants to tell voters next year that you did something about taxes, what’s better than a vote against an income tax? Hence House Joint Resolution 38, which asks voters to amend the Texas Constitution to prohibit an income tax on “individuals.” It’s that word—“individuals”—that may have far more sweeping consequences than it would seem. The Legislative Budget Board has warned lawmakers that that single word could invite new challenges to the franchise tax.

Associated Press - May 19, 2019

Texas church opens new sanctuary 18 months after massacre

A South Texas church began a fresh chapter of worship on Sunday as it unveiled a new sanctuary a year and a half after a gunman opened fire and killed more than two dozen congregants in the deadliest mass shooting in state history.

Parishioners, elected leaders and relatives of those killed or injured at the First Baptist Church in the tiny town of Sutherland Springs gathered at the new sanctuary for its dedication. Some among the hundreds in attendance wore royal blue shirts with "#evildidnotwin" written across the back. In the large, white sanctuary amid a stained glass panel, Pastor Frank Pomeroy told the crowd they were celebrating God's glory while remembering "those who have paid a price for this incredible facility."

The church commemorated the victims by reading their names as the church bell rang, and those connected to them stood up in the crowd. Pomeroy's 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle Pomeroy, was among those killed. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott told the worshippers that despite the trying time since the attack, Sunday marked another giant step forward on a path to healing and recovery. The new worship center and memorial room honoring the victims were made possible through millions of dollars in donations from around the world. The facility features enhanced security elements, along with a new church bell tower and an additional prayer space.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2019

Raid on Dallas Diocese inspires Catholics to close ranks or lose faith: 'Enough is enough'

Catholics across the area wrestled with sadness, disappointment and outright anger after last week's raid on the Dallas diocese, which police say hasn't fully cooperated with a sexual abuse investigation.

Police say the diocese has hidden records of complaints about priests, including former St. Cecilia pastor Rev. Edmundo Paredes. Even as some say the new developments continue to test their beliefs, there are Catholics who say the church needs their support more than ever during this latest crisis, expressing almost familial obligations.

Dallas police conducted Wednesday's raid after an investigator said church officials had "thwarted" his investigation of accusations of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. Saying in a search warrant affidavit that he had unearthed new allegations, Detective David Clark said the diocese had turned over incomplete records and made it impossible for police to know whether the claims had been fully examined.

Dallas Morning News - May 20, 2019

Gerald Britt and Dan Hooper: The war on poverty in Texas will be won in public education, and the Legislature must do its part

What do a poverty-fighting nonprofit and a college success program for first-generation college students have in common? Nagging, persistent poverty makes their work a necessity. Whether we are supporting students unprepared for college or adults struggling to enter the workforce, our work is necessitated by systemic causes of poverty. We believe public education has the power to break these.

This legislative session, lawmakers have the opportunity to take a giant step toward more effectively funding Texas schools. Great strides have been made through the years to increase the high school graduation rate, yet only 23% of students are graduating college-ready, as defined by the College Board's SAT or ACT standards. Among low-income students — the fastest-growing demographic in the state — that number drops below 10%.

We cannot hope to break the stranglehold of intergenerational poverty in our communities if our public education system continues to leave our low-income students behind. We know that a postsecondary credential is essential to economic mobility. If we don't help our low-income students earn career-ready degrees, we are using our multibillion-dollar investment in public education to consign these students to a permanent underclass status and leaving the Texas miracle to benefit more and more of those educated elsewhere.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2019

Amid opioid crisis, Texas becomes first state where life-saving drug is sold online

With opioid-related deaths on the rise each year in the U.S., Texas has become the first state to offer a life-saving overdose drug online, freeing users of the stigma associated with drug use.

Last week, Texas began offering naloxone, an opioid antagonist, for purchase online. Experts say the drug reverses opioid overdoses and is not addictive. The website, naloxoneexchange.com, is the brainchild of James Lott, 33, a Chicago pharmacist who hoped removing the stigma from the purchase and increasing accessibility online would allow anyone to prepare for the worst. Texas is a sort of pilot state for Fiduscript's Naloxone Exchange, which intends to launch in other states in a few months, though there is no hard timeline yet, Lott said.

The expansion to other states is complicated by different guidelines and requirements and by the various times when each state granted approval to Fiducript to pursue its online purchasing model. Texas is a sort of pilot state for Fiduscript's Naloxone Exchange, which intends to launch in other states in a few months, though there is no hard timeline yet, Lott said. In many states, the review process is made easier by a standing order, which allows people to obtain naloxone without a prescription from a doctor. That doesn't make it an over-the-counter drug, but it allows trained pharmacists to sell it on the spot instead of requiring a doctor's visit.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2019

Controversial Texas voting bill likely dead this year after failing to be set for debate

Some of your favorite Game of Thrones characters weren't the only ones left for dead Sunday night. Just before the HBO show aired its much-anticipated finale, Texas Democrats marked the death of a divisive piece of legislation they argued would have suppressed voter turnout.

The bill had a quiet end, killed by a House committee that decided against scheduling it for debate in the final days of the 2019 session. Senate Bill 9 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would have increased criminal penalties for providing false information on a voter registration application, as well as the investigative powers of law enforcement over elections, and would have required those assisting voters to fill out more detailed forms on how they are helping.

Supporters such as Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who made it a priority, said the bill would improve elections security. But voting rights groups and Democrats said it would have scared away registration volunteers or those who help elderly and disabled voters drive to the polls. While the bill itself is now dead, Hughes could revive it by encouraging a colleague in the House to tack on some of its provisions to other legislation scheduled for debate next week.

Austin American-Statesman - May 19, 2019

In addressing opioid crisis, Texas lawmakers shy away from controversial bills

State lawmakers are taking aim at the opioid crisis this session largely through education initiatives and regulations on prescribing of opioids, letting some of the more controversial bills — like those that would have protected drug addicts who call to report overdoses and legalized needle exchange programs — die in the House and Senate.

Legislation by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, that would have given Texas counties the authority to decide whether to make programs that hand out syringes to drug users legal, did not make it to a vote in the House. None of the bills that would have protected drug users who call to report drug overdoses from prosecution got hearings either, despite advocates saying that the measure would lead to a significant drop in overdose deaths, as seen in other states with such laws.

Austin American-Statesman - May 19, 2019

Senate approves fix to ‘revenge porn’ law

The Texas Senate on Sunday approved legislation designed to protect the 2015 “revenge porn” law, which made it a crime to share intimate or sexually explicit photos and videos without consent, from a court challenge. Approved 31-0 by the Senate after last month’s 136-0 vote in the House, the bill next goes to Gov. Greg Abbott.

House Bill 98 seeks to address concerns cited by the Tyler-based 12th Court of Appeals, which ruled last year that the revenge porn law was unconstitutionally broad because it could be used to punish anybody who reposted an image online, even those who did not know that the visual material came from a revenge porn scenario. HB 98 specifies that photos and videos must be posted “with the intent to harm” the person depicted and that the offender knew that the victim had a reasonable expectation that the material would remain private.

The revenge porn law was passed in 2015 after victims complained of harassment, stalking and humiliation when intimate photos and videos were published online, typically by a former partner or spouse. A violation is a state jail felony with a maximum punishment of two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. Under the law, it doesn’t matter if the images were recorded consensually or provided by the victim. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, is reviewing the 12th Court’s ruling and will determine whether the revenge porn law can be enforced or should be struck down.

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2019

Special education advocates hoped for more from 2019 Texas Legislature

Rep. Briscoe Cain stood in front of the Texas House and shared a secret. The Deer Park Republican has Asperger’s Syndrome, making him one of the estimated 400,000 Texans with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Cain was the third lawmaker to talk openly this year about having a disability — including the House Speaker and the head of the House education committee — in a series of testimonials cheered by advocates who want to dispel stigma around disorders such as autism and dyslexia. That outpouring of support for people who struggle with disabilities will translate to more money to serve special education students this legislative session as the state beefs up its investment in public schools by more than $6 billion.

Lawmakers are negotiating a series of school safety bills and a major education package that includes more teacher training and new funding for students who need special accommodations in mainstream classrooms, as well as those with dyslexia. But advocates for the nearly 532,000 public school students with disabilities characterize those changes as incremental. Students and their parents may hardly notice the difference, they say.

Houston Chronicle - May 20, 2019

Mental health services still needed at Houston schools in wake of recent storms

Even though Hurricane Harvey struck Texas almost two years ago, Communities in Schools (CIS) of Houston, are still providing mental health services related to the hurricane, and are seeing a need to keep those services going.

According to cishouston.org, CIS is a campus-based dropout prevention program. CIS works with the school system on campuses to provide direct social services to at-risk students and connect students with available community resources. Spring Branch Independent School District is one of the Houston area districts that has CIS at their Title I schools. At Spring Branch ISD, the need for CIS for storm related help has come full circle.

Buchman continued, “The few schools that had CIS at the time, they were taking care of the families. The schools were rocking along. For campuses that had no support, they were doing everything in their power, but with no CIS network, it wasn’t as easy to make social services and support connections.” Seeing that difference is what helped make the decision to have CIS on every Title 1 campus in the district. Now, in the long-term aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Buchman says that they are seeing secondary trauma.

KUT - May 20, 2019

Why Is Julián Castro the only Democratic presidential candidate with an immigration plan?

Immigration is likely to be a key issue in the 2020 presidential election, but so far Democratic candidates have largely shied away from the issue in their campaigns. Julián Castro hasn't. The former HUD Secretary and mayor of San Antonio is currently the only major Democratic candidate with an actual plan on how to tackle immigration.

Earlier this year, Castro released a plan to decriminalize immigration, as well as rollback several Trump administration policies. It's a sweeping plan that would revamp the way the U.S. handles illegal immigration– as well as legal immigration programs like visas, refugee resettlement and asylum. During a small fundraiser earlier this month at a bar in a stylish hostel in East Austin, Castro talked about his plan, as well as what he saw as serious issues with the way the Trump administration is handling families seeking asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Recently, the Trump administration has been "metering," or limiting, the number of asylum-seekers allowed in the U.S. each day. Officials are also requiring asylum-seekers to stay in Mexico while their claims are considered. Castro said he wants to end both policies, but his plan goes farther. According to Castro's "People First Immigration Policy," he also wants to increase access to legal assistance for those families. Castro basically wants to make asylum process better for people who are seeking it.

KUT - May 20, 2019

Austin's Mayor Steve Adler says more lanes on I-35 won't solve Austin's traffic problems. But it's a start.

Austin Mayor Steve Adler wants you to know something. “I do not believe that adding lanes to I-35 … is the answer to congestion,” Adler said in an interview with KUT, adding that, he believes, merely adding lanes will make traffic worse on the notoriously congested highway.

Adler was responding to criticism of his vote in support of the Capital Express Project. The plan would expand about 30 miles of Interstate 35 between Round Rock and Buda and add up to four non-tolled “managed lanes” of traffic on the highway through Austin. It was approved by the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization's Transportation Board earlier this month.

Opponents say the project would stymie the city's goals to reduce car traffic and fight climate change. They argue that the project goes against the City’s Strategic Mobility Plan, which aims to reduce the number of people driving alone to reduce both climate-warming CO2 emissions and traffic. "I would rather build nothing than build something that’s going to make our climate problem worse," Susan Somers, a transit advocate and urbanist, told KUT after the May 6 vote.

Austin Chronicle - May 15, 2019

Texas Legislature grants big win to small farmers

It’s no secret that the city of Austin’s health permitting procedures are nightmarish, both in terms of finances and time. In hopes of alleviating some of that tension, the Texas House pushed through Senate Bill 932 on May 14. The bill will cap health permit fees imposed on farmers and other farmers’ market vendors at $100 per year, per jurisdiction.

This is a big victory for small vendors, said Christiano Prado, founder of Lua Brazil, who says that in past years he has paid $650 annually for his health permits in Austin. Although the local laws changed on April 1 and vendors are forking over less for city health permits than they used to, it’s still a steep price. There are three different permit classes and each is progressively more expensive.

Since the majority of vendors in farmers’ markets are small startups with low profit margins, those compounding fees can add up quickly. Health department permitting fees are in addition to other required vendor fees like food establishment permits which run in the several hundred dollar range and vendor booth rentals which are required for each market where a vendor sets up shop.

SE Texas Record - May 13, 2019

Mostyn Law files preemptive suit against Beaumont firm over past work, records show firms still working together on active Ike case

Perhaps opting to strike first, The Mostyn Law Firm has filed a petition seeking declaratory judgment against a Beaumont law firm, asserting the statute of limitations has elapsed for it to be sued. The petition was filed against attorney Hart Green and his firm, Weller Green Toups & Terrell.

According to the lawsuit, green provided legal services to Mostyn Law beginning in 2010 and ending in the first in the first quarter of 2014. The parties allegedly had no written agreement and the amount of money to be paid at time is in dispute. In November of 2017, Steve Mostyn, the firm’s founder, committed suicide. Mostyn law contends his testimony “would have been critical to rebut any of Green’s allegations regarding the payment terms” between him and Mostyn.

“Mostyn asserts that Green has been fully compensated for his work, but the issue is irrelevant: Green waited much longer than four years since his claim accrued to present any kind of legal demand,” the suit states. The suit does not state any specific case Green provided legal services to Mostyn Law. However, court records show Green and his firm are working together with Mostyn Law on an active Hurricane Ike lawsuit – Fuentes v. State Farm Lloyds. The case is currently in the 14th Court of Appeals and is set for submission on oral arguments in June.

County Stories

Rio Grande Guardian - May 17, 2019

Starr County, known for wind energy, is branching into solar

Starr County is about to get a major solar energy project, county leaders say. The name of the company involved in developing the 3,000-acre solar farm has yet to be named. However, negotiations are at an advanced stage.

“We are happy to report that within the next few weeks, we may be able to begin the final negotiations in earnest for our first solar farm,” said Rose Benavidez, president of Starr County Industrial Foundation, in an exclusive interview with the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM.

Starr County has become known as a Mecca for wind farms in recent years. Their arrival has helped the county turn around a once bleak financial crunch. Now, however, another renewable energy source is set to be announced. “We still continue to see a big increase in the amount of dollars coming in. Wind energy is playing a big part in expanding revenues. We have another one coming in line this year. We expect this will have a significant increase in our tax dollars, so we can provide more services,” Benavidez said.

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2019

Public not notified of high benzene reading after Ship Channel collision for hours

Seven hours after two vessels collided in the Houston Ship Channel this month, causing a massive spill of a gasoline blend with high concentrations of benzene, a state contractor detected levels of the cancer-causing chemical that exceeded the state’s threshold for short-term exposure.

In fact, some Seabrook residents could have been exposed to levels of benzene 14 times higher than the point at which state officials consider it a cause for worry. Yet, no one was notified for hours. The lapse in communication is a symptom of a system that fails to inform communities when they are potentially exposed to dangerous chemicals, critics say. Some believe the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality could be doing more.

But state environmental officials said they followed procedure and notified a unified command that was responding to the incident. For various reasons, a social media alert did not go out until the following day. The May 10 collision occurred when a 755-foot tanker carrying liquefied natural gas struck a tug boat pushing two barges. One barge capsized and the other was damaged, leaking more than 11,000 barrels of a gasoline blend product called reformate, a highly flammable chemical that’s mixed with gasoline.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - May 17, 2019

‘An Austin treasure’: $2.1M gift gets Barton Springs Bathhouse to goal for rehab

The guests gathered at the lip of Barton Springs Pool at dusk on Thursday beamed with long-delayed pleasure as philanthropist Ross Moody announced his family foundation’s $2.1 million gift to complete the rehabilitation of the Barton Springs Bathhouse, an estimated $8 million project that has been some 20 years in the making.

“It’s an Austin treasure,” said Moody, who has been swimming at the pool since 1980. “The project brings together health, wellness and nature as well as historical, cultural and environmental preservation. It’s a one-stop shop.” The bathhouse, designed in 1947 by Recreation Department staff architect Dan Driscoll in the streamlined moderne style, has long needed an upgrade. The Austin-based firm of Limbacher & Godfrey Architects has been charged with the rehab project.

“A master plan was five years in the making with 108 public meetings,” said George Cofer, environmentalist and CEO of the Hill Country Conservancy, a guest at Thursday’s “Toast to the Springs” event. “It then took three years for them to put together all the funding, but I suspect that 20 years ago we were saying, long-term, we’re going to need to do something.” Friends of Barton Springs Pool, a longtime advocacy group, had prodded the city of Austin to seek a master plan for the site.

Austin American-Statesman - May 19, 2019

Austin largely greets Ilhan Omar with unity, ‘Southern hospitality’

For Ilhan Omar, the Muslim-American freshman congresswoman from Minnesota who has been the target of a menacing tweet from President Donald Trump and the suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that she be bounced from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, her weekend in Austin may be remembered as a relatively placid interlude.

Yes, there were more than two dozen demonstrators outside a North Austin hotel where Omar spoke Saturday night at the fourth annual Citywide Iftar, a ceremonial dinner during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown. But while some were armed with rifles and hostile signs, others held banners and banged drums of welcome.

Inside, Mayor Steve Adler, the guest of honor at the dinner, brushed aside criticism earlier in the week from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller that, as a Jew, Adler should especially keep his distance from Omar. He described the dinner’s keynote speaker, the first Somali-American and one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, as an “inspiring and wonderful symbol of our country’s progress toward real and meaningful representation in government for people who have not previously seen themselves reflected in our democratic institutions."

Dallas Morning News - May 18, 2019

Scooter rider drowns after jumping into reflecting pool outside Dallas City Hall

Police are investigating a drowning late Friday in the reflecting pool in front of Dallas City Hall.

Officers were called shortly before midnight after an unidentified man parked his scooter near City Hall Plaza and jumped into the water, said Sgt. Warren Mitchell, a police spokesman.

He did not resurface, and a crew from Dallas Fire-Rescue was dispatched to remove the body. The man's name had not been released and his death was classified as unexplained.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2019

Transgender woman who was attacked on video found fatally shot in Far East Dallas

A transgender woman who was attacked in April by a group of people in an incident that was recorded on video was found fatally shot Saturday morning on a Far East Dallas street. Muhlaysia Booker, 23, was found about 6:40 a.m. in the 7200 block of Valley Glen Drive, near Ferguson Road. She was pronounced dead at the scene, the victim of "homicidal violence," police said.

Police said Sunday that they had no leads in the case. Assistant Chief Avery Moore said he did not have enough information to say whether her slaying was motivated by hate or retaliation. "We recognize that hate crimes, if you will, are a serious topic," he said. "We at the Dallas Police Department take them serious." Police declined to say whether Booker had reported receiving threats before they found her lying facedown in the road Saturday with a gunshot wound.

In April, a video that circulated online showed Booker being punched and kicked repeatedly in the parking lot of the Royal Crest Apartments in the 3500 block of Wilhurt Avenue. She suffered a concussion and broken wrist from the beating, which began after a car accident. Edward Dominic Thomas, 29, was arrested two days after the attack and indicted on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He posted bond and was released from jail. Police have said others could face charges in connection with the attack.

San Antonio Express-News - May 18, 2019

Gilbert Garcia: Brockhouse tries moving to the middle with new proposals

There’s an old maxim in presidential politics that once you’ve nailed down your party’s nomination, you start moving to the ideological center. San Antonio municipal elections are nonpartisan affairs, but we’re seeing the same principle at work in the mayoral campaign of Greg Brockhouse.

By finishing within 3 percentage points of Mayor Ron Nirenberg in the May 4 municipal election, Brockhouse asserted his dominance with conservative north-of-the-loop voters. Now that the race has come down to a June 8 runoff, Brockhouse seeks to broaden his appeal with a series of “Action Plan SA” proposals for his first 90 days as mayor. These five platform planks — which Brockhouse rolled out over the course of the past week — offer broad suggestions but few substantive ideas.

For example, Brockhouse’s transportation plan states that he will “urgently seek federal funding for new highways and current highway expansion.” I’m sure no one at City Hall ever thought of that before. The transportation plan also calls for the city to “identify where bus stop shelters are needed” and “install quality bus stop shelters across the City.” There’s nothing inherently wrong with that suggestion, but it borders on the self-evident. It’s a bit like saying your plan for reducing crime is to arrest criminals. The going is similarly thin with the rest of Brockhouse’s agenda.

San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2019

San Antonio unemployment rate approaching 20-year low

The San Antonio region’s unemployment rate fell to 2.9% in April, a low not seen since May 1999, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported Friday. Unemployment rates for the month drpped in all nine of Texas’ major metros as late-2019 fears of an economic downturn were replaced with a first-quarter rebound in optimism.

Oil prices in recent weeks have stabilized at about $60 to $65 per barrel, he noted. Job growth, combined with an upturn in a composite of economic indicators known as the Texas Leading Index, prompted Dallas Fed economists to raise the state’s 2019 job growth forecast to 2.3% from the 1.8% predicted in March.

Nevertheless, the San Antonio region’s construction hiring has grown so far this year at a rate of 12.3% compared to 3.2% for 2018. Phillips said a flood of workers are returning to San Antonio from lucrative jobs restoring Hurricane Harvey-hit properties in Houston and the Coastal Bend. According to Workforce Solutions Alamo, eight out of 10 industries in the San Antonio metro area saw job growth in April. Professional and business services led the region with 1,400 job gains, followed by financial activities, with 1,300; mining, logging and construction, with 700; and education and health services with 700.

National Stories

New York Times - May 20, 2019

EPA could make thousands of pollution deaths vanish by changing its math

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to adopt a new method for projecting the future health risks of air pollution, one that experts said has never been peer-reviewed and is not scientifically sound, according to five people with knowledge of the agency’s plans.

The immediate effect of the change would be to drastically lower an estimate last year by the Trump administration that projected as many as 1,400 additional premature deaths per year from a proposed new rule on emissions from coal plants. That, in turn, would make it easier to defend the new regulation, known as the Affordable Clean Energy rule, which is meant to replace former President Barack Obama’s signature climate change measure, the Clean Power Plan.

It is not uncommon for a presidential administration to use accounting changes to make its regulatory decisions look better than the rules of its predecessors. But the proposed new modeling is unusual because it discards more than a decade of peer-reviewed E.P.A. methods and relies on unfounded medical assumptions. The five people familiar with the plan, who are all current or former E.P.A. officials, said the new modeling method would be used in the agency’s analysis of the final version of the ACE rule, which is expected to be made public in June.

New York Times - May 18, 2019

In cities where it once reigned, Heroin is disappearing

Heroin has ravaged this city since the early 1960s, fueling desperation and crime that remain endemic in many neighborhoods. But lately, despite heroin’s long, deep history here, users say it has become nearly impossible to find.

Heroin’s presence is fading up and down the Eastern Seaboard, from New England mill towns to rural Appalachia, and in parts of the Midwest that were overwhelmed by it a few years back. It remains prevalent in many Western states, but even New York City, the nation’s biggest distribution hub for the drug, has seen less of it this year. The diminishing supply should be a victory for public health and law enforcement alike. Instead, in cities like Baltimore, longtime users who managed to survive decades injecting heroin are now at far higher risk of dying from an overdose.

That is because synthetic fentanyl, a deadlier drug that is much cheaper to produce and distribute than heroin, has all but replaced it. The dramatic rise of fentanyl, which can be 50 times stronger than heroin, has been well documented. But its effect on many older, urban users of heroin, who had been able to manage their addiction for years, has been less noticed. The shift from heroin to fentanyl in cities has contributed to surging overdose deaths among older people and African-Americans and deeply unnerved many like William Glen Miller Sr., who first tried heroin as a 13-year-old in West Baltimore.

Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2019

Africans, Cubans pack Mexican shelters, hoping for a shot at asylum

Tired? Check. Poor? Certainly. Yearning for American oxygen? Lord, yes. “I can see Texas across the river, but I am not sure when we’ll get there or where we go then,” said Igor Nyangi, 36, a lawyer from the Democratic Republic of Congo, huddling with his wife and two young children. They and 700 other migrants are staying in a teeming compound a dozen blocks south of the Rio Grande.

Even as President Trump tightens the screws along the Southwest U.S. border, migrants and refugees — from Central America, Cuba, West Africa, Mexico and elsewhere — are pouring into Nuevo Laredo and other Mexican border cities by the thousands. These travelers say they’re determined to grasp a future that providence so far has denied them. Trump’s rampart, they insist, is but another stone in their well-worn shoes.

Detentions along the border have spiked this year as tens of thousands of Central Americans, many of them teenagers traveling alone or adults with young children, cross illegally to surrender to the Border Patrol in hopes of winning a foothold in America. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents processed some 109,000 such migrants in April, the highest monthly tally since 2007. Migrant detentions have doubled from a year ago. They are projected to exceed 1 million by year’s end, rivaling the peak years two decades ago. Most of the asylum petitions ultimately will be denied by immigration judges. But saturated court dockets ensure that many will have at least a few years to plan their next move.

CNBC - May 20, 2019

The trade war seems to be losing its power to frighten this resilient stock market

The stock market has so far withstood its ongoing “gut check,” with a three-day bounce after last Monday’s mini-tariff-panic sell-off preserving its longer-term uptrend and leaving the S&P 500 about 3% from its recent record highs.

Still, for a market so close to all-time heights, its resilience to date owes a lot to cautious, risk-evading behavior rather than optimistic conviction about the future. Stocks have been supported to a significant degree by compressed Treasury yields, which themselves embed high market-implied odds of a Federal Reserve interest-rate cut within months, which would come about only in response to waning economic momentum and a rollover in inflation trends.

There’s nothing ironclad about the interplay of equities and bond yields — the relationship shifts across market phases. But this at least shows stocks have found a way to hang above the 2800 zone — once viewed as the ceiling of a sloppy, treacherous trading range — as Treasury yields have succumbed to a global risk-aversion impulse.

NPR - May 19, 2019

Biden eschews anger, hoping 'unity' can lift him to the presidency

It's not a message for everyone — even though that's exactly what it's intended to be. Many Democrats are angry. They're angry with President Trump's election and what it represents. And they're angry about the direction of the country, and the inequities in American life.

So it would make sense that the person running for the Democratic nomination for president would channel that anger. President Trump did it to win over the Republican base in 2016, saying he gladly carries the "mantle of anger." Not Joe Biden. The Democrat tried to put forward a message of unity Saturday at a major campaign rally in Philadelphia before 6,000 people, according to a security official with the campaign, capping off his presidential campaign kickoff.

He spoke of choosing "hope over fear, truth over lies and, yes, unity over fear." He called it a "different path" that can bring together "Democrats, Republicans and independents." For Barack Obama's vice president, it made sense. But lots of liberals aren't buying it. Rebecca Traister, who authored the book Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's Anger, tweeted that Biden is "deeply wrong" that "Anger at injustice has catalyzed transformative change; 'unity' has not."

NBC News - May 20, 2019

San Francisco's facial recognition ban is just the beginning of a national battle over the technology

Police say facial recognition is “essential” and “imperative” — a groundbreaking tool that allows them to track down criminals who would otherwise escape justice. Opponents say the technology is “nefarious” and “dangerous” — an omen of repressive government surveillance.

The two sides are engaged in an escalating battle over public opinion that will reach a turning point this week, when San Francisco is expected to become the first city in the country to adopt a ban on government use of facial recognition. Other cities in the Bay Area, including Oakland and Berkeley, along with Somerville, Massachusetts, could follow later this year. State lawmakers in Massachusetts will soon begin debating whether to enact a statewide moratorium on the technology.

A bill in New York proposes a temporary stop to facial recognition in public schools, which some see as a first step toward a wider prohibition. Same with a California bill that aims to prohibit facial recognition from being linked to police body cameras. The proposed bans have injected new momentum into a campaign by civil rights advocates, defense lawyers and artificial intelligence researchers to expose the flaws of facial recognition to lawmakers and the public. Linking the fight with a broader public backlash against the government and tech firms’ use of private data, the opponents have documented how algorithms that drive the systems are prone to misidentifying people with dark skin.

May 19, 2019

Lead Stories

KUT - May 17, 2019

Legal experts say Ken Paxton is following Trump's lead by shutting out Congressional investigations.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is refusing to cooperate with two separate congressional investigations, arguing Congress lacks the authority to investigate the state. It’s a move that constitutional law experts say is both unprecedented and is likely inspired by President Trump’s recent refusals to comply with congressional investigations.

"I think that’s a troubling reflection of the time we are in," said Stephen Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. "It’s not surprising that state attorneys general like Ken Paxton are looking at the president and basically following his lead." According to a press release from the attorney general's office Thursday, Paxton characterized calls by two subcommittees of the U.S. House for documents as an attempt to assert "control over core state functions," arguing that it violated "constitutional principles of federalism." The subcommittees are investigating concerns over discrimination against same-sex couples in Texas and child welfare funding.

Last month, Paxton also refused to hand over documents related to Texas’ effort to remove noncitizens from its voter rolls earlier this year to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform. "What we are seeing now on the federal level and now on the state level, at least in Texas, is a sense that you do not have to comply with congressional investigations – that you can simply just say, 'No I don’t feel like it,'" said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles focusing on election law and constitutional law. "And that is unprecedented." Levinson said it is not uncommon for entities under congressional investigation to fight back and eventually compromise, but is uncommon to see states "essentially flout" congressional oversight.

Houston Chronicle - May 18, 2019

Santa Fe community strives for normalcy on first anniversary of school shooting

On a humid Saturday one year to the day after a mass shooting at Santa Fe High School changed the town forever, the community strived for normalcy.

At Runge Park, 2 miles from the campus, faculty members organized a kickball tournament. Country and pop music blared from underneath a pavilion as two dozen teams squared off in friendly competition — an event designed to give the community a distraction from 12 months of grieving. A city proclamation marks May 18 as “Resiliency Day” in Santa Fe — an official acknowledgment of the day a 17-year old student opened fire in two art classrooms, killing 10 people and wounding 13.

Rather than attempt to ignore the first anniversary of the Santa Fe shooting, the community faced it head on. An afternoon of activities was organized at the Galveston County fairgrounds in Hitchcock on Saturday, designed as a show of solidarity. The Santa Fe Resiliency Center, a haven for the community since the shooting, recruited staff, alumni and local officials to give the community a space to heal. “It wasn’t a shooting that affected one family, it affected thousands and thousands of people,” said Jason Tabor, the Santa Fe mayor. “The only way we can get through this is to come together and unite as one and just be helpful.”

NPR - May 19, 2019

Companies that rely on Census data worry citizenship question will hurt

Some critics of the citizenship question the Trump administration wants to add to the 2020 census are coming from a group that tends to stay away from politically heated issues — business leaders.

From longtime corporations like Levi Strauss & Co. to upstarts like Warby Parker, some companies say that including the question — "Is this person a citizen of the United States?" — could harm not only next year's national head count, but also their bottom line. How governments use census data is a common refrain in the lead-up to a constitutionally mandated head count of every person living in the U.S. The new population counts, gathered once a decade, are used to determine how congressional seats and Electoral College votes are distributed among the states.

They also guide how hundreds of billions in federal tax dollars are spread around the country to fund public services. What is often less visible is how the census data undergird decisions made by large and small businesses across the country. The demographic information the census collects — including the age, sex, race, ethnicity and housing status of all U.S. residents — informs business owners about who their existing and future customers are, which new products and services those markets may want and where to build new locations.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - May 17, 2019

Corpus Christi Caller-Times Editorial: Your Texas Legislature declared war on your city and county. How do you choose sides?

Most of us live in cities. And all the cities in Texas take up only 4 percent of its surface. If by "cities" you're thinking Houston or Dallas, you're right. But if you're thinking Three Rivers or Monahans, you're still correct. What they all have in common are elected city governments, property taxes, fees for services, and local ordinances.

What you should know about all Texas cities, including yours or the nearest one to you if you live out in the country, is that they are under attack. So is your county government. Your Texas Legislature is in session and part of its agenda during this session is to take away a lot of the power your local governments wield by tradition.This agenda is based on a prevailing attitude that local governments tax you too much, overstep their authority, and basically just don't have your best interests in mind. You may agree with some or all of that.

But you may also want to ask yourself what your state government has done for you lately and whether it has done it any better than what your local government does for you. The Texas Municipal League has flagged an unprecedented 150 bills in the Legislature it sees as threats to local governance. One of the biggest is the proposal to require an automatic rollback election for any property tax hike above 3.5 percent. Currently, the limit is 8 percent and voters have to petition for a rollback election. The election requirement all but guarantees a 3.5 percent cap on hikes because in addition to the expense of the election, it would occur after the deadlines for passing budgets and setting tax rates. This is a potentially huge limit on decision-making at the local level.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2019

Bill to ban red light cameras in Texas is one step from becoming law

A bill to outlaw red light cameras in Texas passed its final hurdle Friday. The Texas Senate approved House Bill 1631 by a vote of 23-8. It now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign it into law.

The bill would prohibit cities from operating photographic traffic camera systems that catch citizens speeding or running red lights and issue them fines. A handful of Texas cities, including Arlington and Richardson, have quit using the devices, or, like DeSoto, decided against installing them. But several others, including Dallas, Irving, Garland and Plano, continue to champion the cameras, which they say improve public safety.

The cameras also bring in significant sums in fines every year. Dallas, for example, netted almost $5.8 million from their $75-a-pop fines in 2018. Half this went to the city and half to the state's hospital trauma centers. Lawmakers have promised to make up the funds these trauma centers would lose if the bill is signed into law. Debate lasted less than an hour Friday. A handful of Democrats expressed concerns that outlawing the cameras would worsen public safety. Supporters point to two studies that say deadly "angle" or T-bone crashes decrease when red light cameras are in place. But these same studies contain caveats that the presence of red light cameras could result in more rear-end collisions.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2019

Mitchell Schnurman: Don’t just blame hospitals and docs for high health spending. Texas keeps dropping the ball

Health care prices are high in Dallas, and utilization is even higher. But don’t just blame hospitals, doctors and other providers. Many factors contribute to rising health costs, from government policies to obesity rates to the number of physicians per person. Not surprisingly, Texas ranks low on many such measures.

And when lawmakers get a chance to move the needle, they often disappoint. Gov. Greg Abbott recently resisted a 10% tax on e-cigarettes and vaping products, and the bill later died. That frustrated Stephen Love, CEO of the Dallas-Fort Worth Hospital Council, because he believes it will lead to more young people becoming addicted to nicotine.

Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2019

‘A lot of upset Texans’: How much property tax relief should you expect? Not much, experts say

GOP leaders in the Texas Legislature said this is the year they would finally deliver property owners the tax relief they’ve been demanding. First, lawmakers passed legislation that slows how fast property tax bills rise. They called it one of the most transformational tax changes the Legislature has ever passed.

“This not only provides relief, but it reforms the system,” said Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, last month. “It’s true change that will be generational.” Then the Legislature passed another bill that lowers school property tax rates. This is the bill where taxpayers would see and feel the tax cut, lawmakers said. “Texas taxpayers will see property tax reductions,” House Speaker Dennis Bonnen said after passing the school funding bill.

Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2019

After $367.5 million, Texas gets no new child support computer software – just painful lessons

Budget writers are urging the Legislature to cut off further funding of a massive, 12-year technology overhaul at the state's child support enforcement unit that they say has been a disappointing waste of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Key legislators dropped the bombshell this week over the so-called "T2" project at the attorney general's office. "Stop the bleeding," said Sen. Jane Nelson, a Flower Mound Republican who is co-chairwoman of the House-Senate budget conference committee. Added Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, a GOP budget writer from Southlake who was instrumental in persuading House colleagues to pull the plug: "This was a $60 million idea — $340 million ago."

The episode only added to Texas' star-crossed efforts of the past quarter-century to privatize computer work at state agencies. More than one of the debacles has involved Accenture LLP, the successor to Andersen Consulting that on the child support upgrade is drawing fire from indignant lawmakers. But technology giants Electronic Data Systems, IBM and Xerox also absorbed criticism for over-billing or shoddy work on past state IT deals.

Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2019

Texas House approves bill to cut off cities’ contracts with abortion providers

Texas House members approved a bill late Friday night that would bar local governments from contracting with abortion providers and could keep Austin from supporting a low-income women’s health clinic.

The bill heads back to the Senate for final approval of an amendment, and then could go to Gov. Greg Abbott for signing. It passed the House 81-65, with Republican Rep. Sarah Davis of Houston crossing the aisle to vote with Democrats. The bill would prohibit local government entities from making “taxpayer resource” transactions with abortion providers or their affiliates. Those transactions, the bill says, would include the sale, purchase, lease or donation of money, goods, services or property.

The legislation ranks among three abortion-related bills that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick listed in his 30 legislative session priorities in March. The other bills remain in motion with the session’s May 27 end in sight. One would subject a physician who fails to treat an infant born alive after an abortion to a six-figure fine and possible imprisonment. The other would tighten the requirement that women seeking abortions be given information prepared by the state.

Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2019

Beto O'Rourke: Here’s how I'd stop gun violence

In the year since the Santa Fe shooting, far too many more school shootings have occurred — most recently in Highlands Ranch, where a brave young man named Kendrick Castillo died rushing toward the gunmen, saving the lives of others in his classroom. It was not unlike the sacrifice made by Riley Howell at UNC Charlotte the week before. These tragedies followed other shootings in synagogues and churches, malls and movie theaters, nightclubs and newsrooms.

Following the lead of those on the ground in Santa Fe, students walking out of their classrooms and marching for their lives, and all the moms demanding action, here are a few human solutions that I propose. First, universal background checks without exceptions. Close the boyfriend loophole, the Charleston loophole, the gun show loophole, the online loophole — no more loopholes and no more excuses for refusing to close them. States that have adopted universal background checks have already seen a reduction in gun violence. Second, stop selling assault weapons that were designed, engineered, and sold to the United States military for the express purpose of killing people as effectively, as efficiently, in as great a number as possible.

They should remain on the battlefield where they belong — because as long as we keep selling them in our communities, they will keep showing up in our schools. Third, let's adopt red flag laws — not one city or one state at a time, but for this entire country. That will ensure that if someone who owns a gun is a danger to themselves or others, we can use due process to stop them from using that weapon before it's too late. Fourth, we must treat this crisis with the urgency it deserves. We must demand bold solutions and ensure ambitious plans are on the table and part of the discussion. We will also fully invest in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and research into gun violence so we can not only continue to understand what’s happening but begin to address it.

Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2019

Texas lawmakers pass transparency bill to disclose government contract records

A bill that would bring records disclosing how government agencies spend taxpayer money back into public view is likely headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. Senate Bill 943, which passed in the Senate and received initial approval from the House on Friday, would re-establish in the law that information about contracts that governments make with businesses must be public, with some exceptions.

State agencies and local governments had been able to withhold much of that information after a 2015 Texas Supreme Court ruling in Boeing v. Paxton gave them and affected businesses the ability to deny requests if they claimed it could give their competitors an unfair advantage. The ruling was the basis for the city of McAllen’s refusal in 2015 to disclose how much it paid Latin pop singer Enrique Iglesias for performing at a concert that was part of the festivities at a holiday event that lost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. Abbott signed a bill Friday that would require such event information to be public.

Another 2015 Supreme Court case, Greater Houston Partnership v. Paxton, raised the standard for what kinds of entities are considered governmental bodies under the law, allowing more quasi-governmental groups to keep information secret. “Today's passage of SB 943 is a strong statement for transparency in government contracting. I am proud to have worked on this legislation over the last two and a half years to bring back the fundamental importance of knowing how our tax dollars are being spent," said Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, in a statement Friday.

Houston Chronicle - May 19, 2019

Erica Grieder: Alabama’s restrictive law gives anti-abortion politicians an opportunity to take a stand

Celebrations over this week’s passage of the Alabama Human Life Protection Act have been muted, and understandably so. Supporters of the new abortion ban see its passage as an opportunity for the Supreme Court to revisit the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. Its opponents do, too.

Several states have passed laws severely restricting access to abortion this year; others are attempting to do so. Texas, surprisingly, is not among them. On Friday, the Texas House took up Senate Bill 22, which would prevent the state and local governments from partnering with abortion providers for any services. That bill would appear to target groups such as Planned Parenthood, the century-old organization that provides a range of women’s health services.

But some Texas conservatives are disappointed that SB 22 is the first major anti-abortion bill with a chance of reaching Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk this year, given that Republicans control the Legislature — and are swinging for the fences elsewhere. Republicans who were pinned down expressed qualms, for the most part. “Personally, I would have the exceptions” for cases of rape and incest, said Ronna McDaniel, chair of the Republican National Committee. “I believe that there need to be exceptions,” concurred U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a moderate Republican from Alaska. “It goes further than I believe,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California, explaining that he supports exceptions for rape and incest, as well as the life of the mother.

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2019

Harvey flood victims close case against Army Corps

A two-week trial revisiting the anguish that flood victims experienced during Hurricane Harvey came to a close Friday in a lawsuit brought by property owners upstream of the Addicks and Barker reservoirs seeking compensation from the Army Corps of Engineers for using their land to store floodwater during the historic deluge.

The matter will be decided by a Washington, D.C.-based jurist from the specialized U.S. Court of Federal Claims who borrowed one of the stately upper-floor courtrooms used by district court judges in downtown Houston. An array of witnesses included home and real estate owners, a renter now living in a tiny trailer, an airport owner and a vast array of experts in hydrology, federal flood insurance and mapmaking. U.S. Judge Charles F. Lettow also donned Wellington boots on a soggy afternoon last week to accompany a small busload of lawyers to dams, spillways, businesses and homes — in various states of disrepair — that took on water after Harvey.

The judge said he would review briefs from the lawyers and return to Houston on Sept. 13 to hear closing arguments in the case. Another large group of property owners, who were flooded downstream of the two dams, will be tried in a separate hearing later. The consolidated upstream case in Houston involves 13 test properties inside federal reservoirs and upstream of the two World War II-era dams. These 13 locations will serve as stand-ins for more than 1,000 people who have sued the Corps under the Fifth Amendment’s “takings clause.” The residents and businesses claim that the government knowingly used their private property to detain water and that it therefore owes them “just compensation” for damage.

Austin American-Statesman - May 17, 2019

House approves hazing bill after addressing Abbott’s concerns

The Texas House has approved legislation that would add coercing a student to consume an alcoholic beverage, liquor or drug to the definition of hazing, which is a crime under state law and a violation of college and university conduct codes.

The measure, Senate Bill 38, passed Friday night after it was tweaked on the House floor to satisfy Gov. Greg Abbott’s concerns about possible over-criminalization. The bill now returns to the Senate, which is expected to accept the House changes. In advance of the House action, the Republican governor warned through his spokesman that he had serious reservations about the Senate-approved version.

“Governor Abbott believes there must be reform passed to address the rise in hazing incidents,” his spokesman, John Wittman, told the American-Statesman. “Unfortunately, the current version of SB 38 is far too broad in what it criminalizes. The state should not unjustifiably put college students behind bars. The governor remains hopeful that the author of the bill will address these concerns so meaningful reform can be signed into law.” The author of SB 38, Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, apparently took that suggestion to heart, quietly signalling agreement for an amendment in the House. The sticking point for Abbott apparently stemmed from the fact that the bill did not distinguish between coercion involving, say, a single beer or half a bottle of liquor, according to anti-hazing activists.

Austin American-Statesman - May 17, 2019

House backs abortion bill after heated debate bogs down Legislature

Progress at the Capitol came to an abrupt halt Friday as the Texas House got bogged down in a sometimes heated debate over banning cities and counties from doing business with Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers and their affiliates.

As proposed amendments and time-consuming points of order piled up, the tensions spilled over into the Senate, which was voting out House bills in the closing days of the session. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, halted voting in the afternoon, saying that if the House was going to spend hours on one bill — putting in jeopardy a long list of Senate bills that must receive House approval by Tuesday — then the Senate would halt action on House bills as well.

And with that, what had been a relatively quiet legislative session blew up, at least for one day, over abortion, one of the hottest of hot-button issues at the Legislature. On the other side of the Capitol Rotunda, House members spent Friday afternoon and evening debating Senate Bill 22, which would ban cities, counties and other local governments from any type of transaction with abortion providers or their affiliates, including Planned Parenthood clinics that don’t provide abortions but offer contraceptives, cancer screenings, HIV testing and other health care.

Penn Record - May 14, 2019

ALI sends in lobbyists as Texas lawmakers consider denouncing group's insurance Restatement

New records show that the American Law Institute has hired lobby assistance to oppose legislation filed by Texas lawmakers to discourage the Restatement of the Law of Liability Insurance from being relied upon by courts.

According to information on file with the Texas Ethics Commission, the ALI hired James W. Dow and Nelson H. Nease of Cross Oak Group in Austin, Texas, last week, in apparent response to bills created in the Texas legislature earlier this year that seek to refute the ALI's controversial liability insurance Restatement. Dow lobbies on behalf of clients in business development and government affairs. He also does private business consulting on behalf of major corporations and private equity in aerospace, financial services, public pensions and healthcare.

Dow lobbies on behalf of clients in business development and government affairs. He also does private business consulting on behalf of major corporations and private equity in aerospace, financial services, public pensions and healthcare. The Philadelphia-based ALI has long published Restatements with the goal of providing summaries to judges who deal with certain issues, but some have wondered whether the group has started proposing new laws rather than restating existing ones. The Restatement concerns when insurers can be found liable in civil lawsuits and has been called “litigation fuel.”

Texas Public Radio - May 17, 2019

Texas religious liberty bill, condemned as anti-LGBTQ, moves To House floor

A Texas Senate bill banning any governmental entity from punishing a private business for its past donations to religious organizations was one short step away from becoming law. Critics condemn it as anti-LGBTQ legislation.

A Texas Senate bill banning any governmental entity from punishing a private business for its past donations to religious organizations was one short step away from becoming law. Critics condemn it as anti-LGBTQ legislation. The bill resulted from a controversial decision by the City of San Antonio prohibiting Paradies Lagadère, a concessions operator for the airport, from including Chick-fil-A in its concession plan.

The Senate bill, sponsored in the House by Fort Worth Republican Matt Krause, would ban any governmental entity from denying an individual or business a contract, tax-free status or license based on past religious affiliations. “I continue to push back very strongly that this is in any way discriminatory. And I think that this bill –– as we’ve seen with the City of San Antonio City Council and Chick-fil-A –– it’s not a hypothetical. This has real-world application,” Krause said. Republicans characterized it as a bill meant to protect religious freedoms. Democrats like Dallas Rep. Rafael Anchia see the bill as a version of the 2017’s bathroom bill. The bill has both the support of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the Senate and Speaker Dennis Bonnen in the House.

SE Texas Record - May 14, 2019

Texas Bar launches counterattack in legal fight to stop collection of mandatory dues

The State Bar of Texas has launched an all-out offensive, firing a barrage of filings yesterday in hopes of killing a lawsuit brought by three attorneys who contend paying mandatory dues violates their First Amendment rights.

In March, the plaintiff attorneys sued the State Bar Board of Directors, a lengthy list of individuals that includes Bar President Joe Longley, who, in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, made an opinion request to the AG’s Office earlier this year questioning the constitutionality of collecting mandatory dues from members. In Janus v. AFSCME, the high court returned First Amendment rights to public sector workers, essentially finding that millions of public servants no longer have to pay a government union as a condition of employment. Under Janus, the plaintiff attorneys argue that it violates the First Amendment to compel attorneys to financially support the Bar in order for them to engage in their chosen profession.

The lawsuit has even caught the attention of Attorney General Ken Paxton, who filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs last month, arguing that the Bar violates the First Amendment rights of members by compelling financial support for ideological and political activities without their affirmative consent. Apparently however, the wrong entity has been targeted, as the State Bar is an arm of the government – and a mandatory bar is different than a public-sector labor union, according to the State Bar. In its motion to dismiss, the Texas Bar argues the Texas Legislature imposed the fee in the State Bar Act and that the defendant board members are not responsible for the imposition or enforcement of the requirement that the plaintiffs pay the fee.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 18, 2019

Bud Kennedy: From Fort Worth, they could see the world: Schieffer brothers win Golden Deeds Award

Between them, the Schieffer brothers of Fort Worth have moderated presidential debates, anchored network newscasts for 35 years, built a pro baseball stadium and team, and served America as one of our leading diplomats.

From their upbringing 10 years apart in River Oaks and Benbrook, Bob and Tom Schieffer became Fort Worth’s emissaries to Washington and the world. Last week, both talked about growing up in Fort Worth. For years, people here actually argued about whether they were Democrats or Republicans, and sometimes even about whether they were brothers. Bob Schieffer, now 82, was the calm voice delivering even-handed CBS News reports as an anchor and host from 1975 until as recently as as “Face the Nation” appearance April 21.

Former Ambassador Tom Schieffer, 71, was a one-time Texas House Democrat who ran the Texas Rangers, represented America in Australia and Japan under President George W. Bush and then came home in 2009 and ran an eight-month campaign for governor. (His slogan: “Tom for Texas.”) Bob Schieffer and his wife, Pat, have lived in Washington or New York 50 years. Tom Schieffer and his wife, Susanne, came home from Japan in 2009 to Westworth Village, not far from the little frame homes where the Schieffers grew up on first Kessler Road and then Merritt Street. “I still think of myself as being from Fort Worth,” Bob Schieffer said.

Texas Tribune - May 17, 2019

Texas medical marijuana expansion gains steam in Senate, even after previous stonewalling

Even as the Senate stonewalls a handful of bills aimed at lessening criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, an upper chamber committee advanced legislation Friday that aims to vastly expand who has access to medical cannabis in the state.

As filed, state Rep. Stephanie Klick’s House Bill 3703 would add multiple sclerosis, epilepsy and spasticity to the list of debilitating medical conditions that qualify for cannabis oil. The progress on her bill comes four years after Klick authored legislation that narrowly opened up the state to the sale of the medicine. The bill requires approval by the full Senate chamber before it can return to the Texas House, where lawmakers have already approved two bills to drastically expand the Compassionate Use Program, which currently only allows the sale of cannabis oil to people with intractable epilepsy who meet certain requirements.

KUT - May 15, 2019

A change to Texas' voting bill could limit voting centers In minority areas, opponents say

County judges and voting groups say they're concerned an update to a sweeping voting bill could reduce the number of countywide polling places in minority communities – particularly in larger metropolitan areas in Texas.

Senate Bill 9 would change the state's formula for how counties figure out where to put polling places. If passed, counties would look solely at the number of registered voters in a given area, which could favor whiter neighborhoods with historically higher registration numbers. According to the bill, the distribution should be “as equal as mathematically possible to the percentage of registered voters of the county whose registrations are effective on the date of the election residing in each state representative district.”

Texas Observer - May 19, 2019

Texans could soon face higher fees for late rent, with little recourse to fight back

In July 2014, Cathi and Tara Cleven signed a one-year lease and moved into an apartment at Colonial Grand at Canyon Creek, a sprawling, shady complex in northwest Austin owned by Mid-America Apartments. Like most leases, their agreement specified penalties for late payment of rent: After the third day of the month, they’d owe an initial late fee of $75, plus a daily late charge of $15 for up to 15 days.

The Clevens are plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit filed in federal court in 2016 that alleges the late fees they and other Mid-America Apartments tenants were charged and paid were arbitrary and illegal. The case is one of six class action lawsuits that have been filed since 2016 against large apartment operators in Texas for charging “unreasonable” late fees. Now, at least in part because of those lawsuits, the Texas Apartment Association, a trade group for the rental housing industry that donated more than $450,000 to Texas lawmakers in the 2018 campaign cycle, is trying to change the law to allow landlords to charge some of the highest late fees in the country.

According to a state law updated by the Legislature in 2007, a landlord can charge tenants a late fee only if that fee is “a reasonable estimate of uncertain damages to the landlord that are incapable of precise calculation and result from the late payment of rent.” Lobbyist David Mintz testified on behalf of the Texas Apartment Association in 2007 that the updated statute would curb “some of the true abuses we’ve seen with some rental property owners and, I think just as importantly, [do] it in a way that is balanced and fair and within good, reasonable business practices.”

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Houston housing market takes a turn as demand for higher-end homes sags

The air is starting to come out of Houston’s robust housing market. The number of homes on the market has been rising, and the average time it took to sell a home has been growing longer.

In addition, a large numbers of homes have been selling for less than their list price. These indicators come as mortgage rates have been in decline since November, a factor that should spur homebuyers to enter the market. “Altogether, those are signs that the market is slowing,” said Javier Vivas, director of economic research for Realtor.com. Now, two independent reports bear that out.

Online real estate company Zillow released a report Thursday morning saying Houston-area home values fell 0.3 percent in April from the month before. That was in line with a HomesUSA.com analysis of data from the Houston Association of Realtors, which found the average new-home price fell 0.4 percent between March and April. Nationally, home prices have been growing by less each month for nearly a year, but growth was still positive, according to the Case-Shiller Price Index of home values. That changed last month when, for the first time since February 2012, Zillow’s data show home values nationwide fell 0.1 percent month-over-month.

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2019

Blistering report details serious safety lapses at St. Luke’s

When government inspectors descended on Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in March, they found a once-renowned hospital system beset with problems threatening the health and safety of patients. It was a place where some people were given medications not ordered by their doctors, where objects had been mistakenly left in patients after surgery, and where sewage backed up into a kitchen stocked with moldy vegetables.

It was also a place where transvaginal ultrasound probes, the type used to examine a fetus during an early pregnancy, were not always disinfected properly before being used in subsequent patients, and where staff members weren’t always following protocols needed to prevent air from seeping into the blood of patients receiving dialysis, a potentially fatal complication. In area after area, from infection control to quality assurance, from the kitchen to the executive suite, inspectors found that hospital administrators didn’t have adequate processes in place to ensure the staff always followed safety standards and learned from serious mistakes.

Those findings were detailed in a 203-page deficiency report from the Texas Department of State Health Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which was delivered to hospital leaders last month and made public Friday. The report follows months of scrutiny by federal regulators and comes one year after the start of an investigation by the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica that revealed a high rate of deaths and complications following heart transplants at St. Luke’s. Subsequent stories uncovered other concerns related to surgical outcomes, hospital management and nursing care.

San Antonio Express-News - May 17, 2019

Some wonder why domestic violence not a focus of San Antonio’s mayoral campaign

After news broke in March of mayoral candidate Greg Brockhouse’s two past alleged instances of domestic violence, some hoped the revelations would spark a public discussion, especially at a time when family violence deaths in San Antonio are on the upswing.

But the reaction — apart from scattered protests by activists and a plea from a handful of City Council members for more domestic violence funding — largely has been silence. Far from becoming a cause célébre as voters choose their next leader, the issue seems to be getting brushed under the rug — a reflection, women’s advocates say, of a widespread discomfort with talking about domestic violence, still viewed by some as a “private matter” between adults.

For the most part, he has been spared public questioning about the allegations, telling moderators at one debate that he would walk out if the police reports were brought up (they weren’t). The moderator at a subsequent debate sponsored by the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce never asked, saying later that he didn’t have time to get to the question. Brockhouse recently declined to be interviewed by a television station about the allegations, according to a local anchor. Brockhouse, a city councilman representing District 6, was not arrested or charged in either incident. As the candidate has batted away direct questions, some in the community downplayed the subject.

San Antonio Express-News - May 19, 2019

Eric Mapes: No vote until city leaders step up

A friend asked if I was going to vote this year in the San Antonio elections for mayor and City Council. I said, “I don’t vote in the midterm elections unless it’s for a school bond.” told her I feel the overall leadership of local public offices is — and has been — the same for years and is not likely to change. I believe the mentality of most elected officials has been that of a second-rate vision of what San Antonio could be.

I believe San Antonio is a perpetual economy — as more people move to San Antonio, there is a need for more schools, restaurants, box stores, gas stations and so on. There hasn’t been a new large corporation move to the area, with exceptional pay, for years. Many city leaders will argue that San Antonio is a great place to live and raise a family. And they are correct. I’m a product of San Antonio — I attended schools in the North East Independent School District and graduated from UTSA, and now I work in the city and my girls attend schools in NEISD.

But the fact is, San Antonio ranks among the lowest across the nation and state in per capita income and household income, and among the highest in credit card debt. All of this can be attributed to our city being service-orientated, which on average pays less than most fields. The per capita income in San Antonio, according to 2017 Census Bureau statistics, was $24,325, which ranked 22nd among the largest 25 cities in the country. It also ranked behind Austin, Dallas, Houston and Forth Worth. San Antonio has consistently ranked in the top five cities with the highest credit card debt and among the highest for credit card debt burden — meaning many in San Antonio rely on their credit card to help pay for basic necessities.

Texas Public Radio - May 17, 2019

TEA: Southside School Board ready for return to local control

The Texas Education Agency has set a date for a gradual transition back to independent governance in the Southside school district: May 2020.

TEA deputy commissioner Jeff Cottrill publicly announced the news Thursday shortly before four newly elected trustees took their oaths of office. A state-appointed board of managers has been in charge of the district since 2017, when a TEA investigation found that trustees had procured contracts illegally. None of the candidates elected to the Southside school board earlier this month were on the board at the time of the state takeover.

Cottrill said Thursday that TEA would begin returning the district to local control now, but a provision in the education code requires a one year delay. Under the Texas Education Code, elected trustees are gradually added to the board of managers over the course of three years during a transition back to local control. The first year, TEA appoints two trustees to the board, creating a hybrid board of five appointed members and two elected members. The following year, TEA appoints three more trustees, replacing three appointed members. In the third year, the final two trustees join the board, completing the return to local control.

National Stories

Associated Press - May 19, 2019

China's ban on scrap imports a boon to US recycling plants

The halt on China's imports of wastepaper and plastic that has disrupted U.S. recycling programs has also spurred investment in American plants that process recyclables. U.S. paper mills are expanding capacity to take advantage of a glut of cheap scrap. Some facilities that previously exported plastic or metal to China have retooled so they can process it themselves.

And in a twist, the investors include Chinese companies that are still interested in having access to wastepaper or flattened bottles as raw material for manufacturing. "It's a very good moment for recycling in the United States," said Neil Seldman, co-founder of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a Washington-based organization that helps cities improve recycling programs. China, which had long been the world's largest destination for paper, plastic and other recyclables, phased in import restrictions in January 2018.

Global scrap prices plummeted, prompting waste-hauling companies to pass the cost of sorting and baling recyclables on to municipalities. With no market for the wastepaper and plastic in their blue bins, some communities scaled back or suspended curbside recycling programs. New domestic markets offer a glimmer of hope. About $1 billion in investment in U.S. paper processing plants has been announced in the past six months, according to Dylan de Thomas, a vice president at The Recycling Partnership, a nonprofit organization that tracks and works with the industry.

Associated Press - May 17, 2019

Border Patrol flies migrants from Texas to California

The U.S. Border Patrol said Friday that it would fly hundreds of migrant families from south Texas to San Diego for processing and that it was considering flights to Detroit, Miami and Buffalo, New York.

The flights are the latest sign of how the Border Patrol is struggling to keep up with large numbers of Central American families that are reaching the U.S. border with Mexico, especially in Texas. Moving migrants to less crowded places is expected to distribute the workload more evenly. Flights from Texas' Rio Grande Valley to San Diego were to begin Friday and continue indefinitely three times a week, with each flight carrying 120 to 135 people, said Douglas Harrison, the Border Patrol's interim San Diego sector chief.

"We don't have an end date," Harrison told reporters. "This is a contingency operation. We've got to give the people in Rio Grande Valley some relief." Plans to fly from Rio Grande Valley to Detroit, Miami and Buffalo were preliminary, Harrison said. Authorities were researching available airports and the ability for nonprofit groups to provide temporary assistance. Already, U.S. authorities are moving four buses a day from the Rio Grande Valley to Laredo, Texas, about 100 miles away. There is also a daily flight contracted through U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to Del Rio, Texas, about 275 miles away.

Wall Street Journal - May 19, 2019

Big companies tightened spending as trade fears intensified

Spending on factories, equipment and other capital goods slowed in the first quarter among a broad cross-section of large, U.S.-listed firms, highlighting investor concerns that a key driver of economic growth is fading.

Capital spending rose 3% from a year earlier in the first quarter at 356 S&P 500 companies that had disclosed figures in quarterly regulatory filings through midday May 8, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal of data supplied by Calcbench, a provider in New York and Cambridge, Mass. That is down from a 20% rise in the year-ago period for the same companies, the analysis shows.

Executives at several companies said lingering trade tensions with China were making them and their customers cautious, raising the prospect that slower business spending could hamper economic growth later in 2019 and in 2020. U.S. nonresidential fixed investment—which reflects business spending on software, research and development, equipment and structures—rose at a 2.7% annual rate in the first quarter, pulling back from a 5.4% pace in the fourth quarter, the government said last month.

New York Times - May 19, 2019

Abortion fight or strong economy? For GOP, cultural issues undercut 2020 message

The unemployment rate is at a 50-year low, companies are adding jobs and the gross domestic product grew by 3.2 percent in the first quarter, undercutting predictions of a coming recession. Yet for all that political upside, Republicans demonstrated repeatedly last week that they were not positioning themselves to wage the 2020 election over the strength of the economy.

President Trump and his top advisers sent mixed signals about a possible war with Iran. Mr. Trump outlined a hard-line immigration proposal that had little chance of passing, but refocused attention on the most incendiary issue of his presidency. His drumbeat about tariffs on China sent the stock market gyrating. And in Alabama, the Republican governor signed a bill that would effectively ban abortion, the most recent and far-reaching of new state restrictions and a step toward a possible Supreme Court showdown over abortion rights.

Such divisive and destabilizing stands — driven by Mr. Trump’s political impulses and by emboldened conservatives — could end up alienating swing voters and could help Democrats who might otherwise be on the defensive over the nation’s relative prosperity, politicians and strategists in both parties said. And the longstanding verity that Americans vote with their pocketbooks may be tested in 2020 like never before.

Bloomberg - May 17, 2019

Toyota rebukes Trump for sending message that carmaker ‘not welcomed' in U.S.

Toyota Motor Corp. rebuked President Donald Trump’s declaration that imported cars threaten U.S. national security, signaling contentious talks are ahead for the White House and America’s key trading partners.

In an unusually strong-worded statement, Japan’s largest automaker said Trump’s proclamation Friday that the U.S. needs to defend itself against foreign cars and components “sends a message to Toyota that our investments are not welcomed, and the contributions from each of our employees across America are not valued.” The company said it has spent more than $60 billion building operations in the country, including 10 manufacturing plants.

Trump earlier Friday agreed with the conclusions of his Commerce Department, which investigated imports of vehicles and auto parts and found they harm national security by having led to a declining market share for “American-owned” carmakers since the 1980s. The White House set a 180-day deadline for negotiating deals with Japan, the European Union and other major auto exporters. Toyota said it remains hopeful that those talks can be resolved quickly, but warned that curbing imports would force U.S. consumers to pay more and be counterproductive for jobs and the economy. The company’s critique comes two months after its pledge to add $3 billion to a years-long U.S. investment plan.

USA Today - May 17, 2019

Rep. Michael McCaul on Iran threat: Directive was to 'kill and kidnap American soldiers'

A top Republican lawmaker said Friday that the threat from Iran picked up by U.S. intelligence – which sparked a U.S. military deployment to the Middle East and heightened tensions across the region – was very specific and involved the possible kidnapping and killing of American soldiers.

"To the extent I can discuss it, it was human intelligence," Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told USA TODAY on Friday. He was referring to intelligence information that prompted the Pentagon to deploy an aircraft carrier, along with B-52 bombers and other military forces, to the Middle East. Trump administration officials said the move was made to counter what they described as credible threats from Iran to U.S. forces in the region.

McCaul said U.S. intelligence officials learned that the head of Iran's Quds Force, a unit of Iran's military force, met with Iran's proxy militias and said: "We are getting ready to have a proxy war and target Americans." He said the same message was delivered to a Hezbollah proxy group. Hezbollah is an Iranian-sponsored terrorist group. "One of the Hezbollah cells is known for its kidnapping and killing operations, and their directive was to go in and kill and kidnap American soldiers," McCaul said.

ProPublica - May 19, 2019

The country that exiled McKinsey

In 2010, amid a historic commodities boom fueled by the explosion of China’s economy, international companies began turning their attention to Mongolia as it opened its vast deposits of coal and copper to commercial exploitation.

To make that happen, Mongolia concluded that it needed to lay thousands of miles of railroad tracks. Such a project would cost billions of dollars and throw off hefty fees for construction companies, banks, law firms and consultants of various stripes. The consulting contracts alone could be worth tens of millions over a decade. And if the railroad expansion worked out, there’d be even more opportunities after that. McKinsey & Co., the global consulting behemoth, was interested.

In the fall of 2010, Jimmy Hexter, a senior partner at the firm, began talking with Mongolia’s government about the railroad project. Hexter had spent decades in the region, at one point running McKinsey’s office in Beijing. He was a veteran of multiple infrastructure projects in Asia, a global leader of the firm’s infrastructure practice and enthusiastic about Mongolia’s potential. A year after that warning was published, Hexter and McKinsey did exactly what American diplomats had cautioned could be risky: The firm signed a consulting agreement with a government entity even as the government adviser who brought McKinsey into the project also landed a piece of the same contract for his own private company.

Dallas Morning News - May 19, 2019

Billions at stake as Trump’s diversion of border resources puts the squeeze on business

Luis A. Bazan looks at his port of entry nestled up against the Mexican city of Reynosa and sees a maze of 18-wheelers mostly stuck, waiting and waiting before creeping along the highway that links north and south at a snail’s pace.

Pharr, a small city of about 80,000 people, usually thrives on its border crossing –– fresh Mexican produce –– many kinds of peppers, including jalapenos –– mangos, avocados and more are bound for the north, including Dallas grocery stores. The crossing here handles more produce than anywhere else along the U.S.-Mexico border. But that record trade has come to a slow crawl, hit hard by the loss of at least 60 of its customs officials who have been diverted to other duties by the Trump administration.

Bazan is referring to the reassignment of more than 730 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers from international bridges to help deal with the flow of mostly Central American migrants. The Trump administration says it’s a crisis: More than 100,000 migrants crossed the border in April, with many voluntarily turning themselves in to authorities to seek asylum. It was the biggest monthly apprehension total since 2007. Bazan and other business leaders and economists say the reassignment of customs workers and the slowdowns when crossing the border are now taking their toll on business. One study says wait times at international crossings are almost a third longer and billions of dollars in trade is at stake.

Washington Post - May 19, 2019

Obama and Trump broke the mold. What does that mean for the future of the presidency?

For more than two centuries, until the election of 2008, American presidents all looked alike. They were white and male and every one of them came to office with experience in the government, military or both. Barack Obama, the first African American president, broke one mold. Donald Trump, who had neither military nor government experience, broke the other.

In their own ways, Obama and Trump were two of the most unlikely people ever elected to the presidency, raising the question of whether voters in America are using a new lens through which to judge the qualities and qualifications of presidential aspirants. Trump’s presidency continues that experiment, as does the competition among the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose him in 2020.

Will and Wendy Keen were in the audience at the Big Grove Brewery and Taproom in Iowa City a few weeks ago, awaiting the arrival of former vice president Joe Biden. They have been making what Will called “a diligent effort to connect with each of the candidates” campaigning in their state. One person who has caught their eye is South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a candidate who, at age 37 and the leader of a relatively small city, might not have been seen in years past as having the experience needed for the presidency.

May 17, 2019

Lead Stories

Washington Post - May 16, 2019

Judge orders public release of what Michael Flynn said in call to Russian ambassador

A federal judge on Thursday ordered that prosecutors make public a transcript of a phone call that former national security adviser Michael Flynn tried hard to hide with a lie: his conversation with a Russian ambassador in late 2016.

U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in Washington ordered the government also to provide a public transcript of a November 2017 voice mail involving Flynn. In that sensitive call, President Donald Trump's attorney left a message for Flynn's attorney reminding him of the president's fondness for Flynn at a time when Flynn was considering cooperating with federal investigators.

The transcripts, which the judge ordered be posted on a court website by May 31, would reveal conversations at the center of two major avenues of special counsel Robert Mueller III's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. So far they have only been disclosed to the public in fragments in court filings and the Mueller report. Sullivan also ordered that still-redacted portions of the Mueller report that relate to Flynn be given to the court and made public.

San Antonio Express-News - May 16, 2019

San Antonio-based Whataburger hires Morgan Stanley to ‘explore our options’

Whataburger — with its yellow-wrapped burgers, fries and Spicy Ketchup — is as familiar to Texans as H-E-B and as beloved as the Dallas Cowboys when they’re having a good season. Now the San Antonio fast-food chain is looking to put its iconic orange-and-white stores on many more street corners, and it’s turned to Wall Street for help.

Whataburger confirmed Thursday it has hired investment banking firm Morgan Stanley to help the company determine how best to fuel its expansion. That will mean considering several potential strategies: selling the company or part of it, re-franchising, finding large private investors or selling Whataburger shares through an initial public offering. For now, company officials are vague about their next steps.

“Our company is growing and is always attractive to investors, and we’ve brought in Morgan Stanley to help us explore our options,” a spokesperson for Whataburger Corporate Communications said in an email. “We have always evaluated the opportunities that can accelerate growth and maintain the success of our brand, and we will continue to do so in the future.”

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2019

Texas part of national push for laws promoting fledgling chemical recycling industry

The Texas Legislature has passed a bill that would support a fledgling industry that aims to reduce waste by returning plastic back to its original chemical components, which can then be reused for fuels and feedstocks of new plastic products.

The bill, supported by chemical makers such as Chevron Phillips Chemical of the Woodlands and the Texas oil major Exxon Mobil, is a response to the growing public outcry over plastic waste that is choking the world’s oceans, contaminating soil and threatening marine and wild life. Chemical recycling is not only viewed by chemical makers as a way to reduce plastic pollution, but also as a new and potentially $10 billion industry.

Unlike traditional mechanical recycling, chemical recycling uses chemical processes to convert plastic waste into fuels to use in cars or manufacturing feedstocks that can be turned into new plastics. Although chemical recycling itself isn’t new, more petrochemical companies are investing in improving the technology to make it work on a commercial scale. The bill, which last week was sent to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office to be signed into law, would regulate chemical recycling operations as manufacturing plants, rather than solid waste disposal sites, a designation that would spare chemical recyclers from many regulations imposed on solid waste sites. The plants would still have to comply with state and federal air, water and other environmental laws.

Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2019

Sharon Grigsby: Dallas-area lawmaker's powerful sex-abuse bill moves forward in original form

In a huge victory for sexual-abuse survivors — and all of us who care about those women and men — a Senate committee on Thursday unanimously approved the original version of smart and righteous legislation from state Rep. Craig Goldman, R-Fort Worth, that expands the time frame for civil action against perpetrators.

Becky Leach, the wife of state Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, has driven momentum on HB 3809. In testimony before the state House Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Committee in support of the bill, Becky Leach disclosed publicly for the first time that she was sexually abused as a child. But in the days after her testimony, HB 3809, which would lengthen the period for civil action from 15 to 30 years after a victim's 18th birthday, was quietly and significantly changed.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2019

Opponents line up to testify against Texas voter fraud bill

More than a hundred people on Wednesday filled two rooms in the Texas Capitol, most of them to speak in opposition to a bill that they call a voter suppression tool.

The Texas House election committee heard about six hours of testimony that went past midnight, mostly from people who were against Senate Bill 9, but did not take a vote. The bill is one of Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priorities this session, and has already passed in the GOP-led Senate. The multipronged legislation would raise criminal penalties — making false statements on a voter registration form, for example, would be treated as a state jail felony — as well as create new offenses, such as a misdemeanor charge for blocking people’s pathway to a polling place.

The bill would also create new rules related to the voting process, such as obligating people to fill out a form if they help at least three nonfamily-member voters who physically are unable to enter the polling place and receive a curbside ballot with transportation. Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, the bill’s sponsor, has touted the legislation as a way to increase election integrity and to “give certainty to every Texan that their vote will be counted fairly.” Hughes has brushed off criticism that the bill seeks to intimidate or discourage voters.

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Ted Cruz not laughing about space pirate jabs on MSNBC, Twitter

Ted Cruz has had enough of the media mocking him for his concerns about space pirates. At a hearing this week in Washington, the Republican U.S. Senator from Texas delivered an introductory speech at a subcommittee he chairs in which he endorsed President Donald Trump’s call for a Space Force to defend American interest in space.

“Since the ancient Greeks first put to sea, nations have recognized the necessity of naval forces and maintaining a superior capability to protect waterborne travel and commerce from bad actors,” Cruz said. “Pirates threatened the open seas and the same is possible in space. In this same way, we too must now recognize the necessity of a Space Force to defend the nation and to protect space commerce and civil space exploration.”

Those comments quickly became fodder for jabs on cable television and on the internet. NBC’s Meet the Press host Chuck Todd scoffed at the idea at the start of his MTP-Daily program on MSNBC. Cruz, who is chairman on the Senate Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, responded on Twitter. “Sure, a frigate w/ skull & crossbones in space is unlikely anytime soon, but what MSNBC conveniently omits is the threat of piracy, espionage & violence from rogue & rival NATIONS is very real,” he wrote. “Indeed, China has already developed & tested weapons to destroy satellites in space.” Later, Cruz launched more tweets jabbing at Todd directly: “You know how to report honestly, and this isn’t it.”

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Muslims decry Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar

After Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller called on Austin Mayor Steve Adler not to attend a Ramadan event headlined by U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, the group hosting this weekend’s dinner fired back.

“Hate has no home here,” Sana Shahid of Emgage, a Muslim American advocacy group, said in a statement Thursday morning, adding that Miller’s “immoral” comments “do not reflect the views of everyday Texans.” Omar, D-Minnesota, is the keynote speaker Saturday night at the Annual Austin Citywide Iftar Dinner, a ceremonial meal to break the fast during Ramadan. Adler, who has attended each of the previous city-wide Iftars, is the guest of honor.

In November, Omar made history when she and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Since then, Omar has stirred controversy with comments seen as anti-Semitic and remarks viewed as dismissive of the 9/11 attacks. Omar’s critics accuse her of playing into anti-Semitic stereotypes when criticizing Israel and its supporters. On Tuesday, Miller called on Adler, who is Jewish, to stay home and suggested replacing Omar’s participation with Jewish community leaders.

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Trade war could delay LNG projects on Gulf Coast, analyst says

Escalating trade tensions with China could jeopardize or delay proposed liquefied natural gas projects on the Gulf Coast by raising construction costs in the United States and prices in China, hurting the emerging industry's competitiveness in one of the world's biggest energy markets, analysts and economists say.

China's decision to impose 25 percent tariffs on U.S. LNG comes as developers are poised to make final investment decisions for several Gulf Coast projects, including Driftwood LNG near Lake Charles, La., and Calcasieu Pass LNG in Cameron Parish, La. Cheniere Energy of Houston also is nearing a final investment decision on an expansion of its Sabine Pass complex in Louisiana.

The trade war adds uncertainty into long-term planning for energy projects, said Peter Rodriguez, dean of the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business at Rice University. The tariffs come with China poised to become the world's largest importer of liquefied natural gas. The research and consulting firm Rystad Energy forecasts that Chinese demand for liquefied natural gas will reach 95 million metric tons per a year in 2025 up from 53 million metric last year. Rystad Energy said that Chinese tariffs would make U.S LNG less attractive than that of competitors, such as Australia, and give Chinese buyers more bargaining power.

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Weatherford delisted from New York Stock Exchange in latest woes

Struggling oilfield service company Weatherford International is now trading as a penny stock after being delisted from the New York Stock Exchange. In a Thursday afternoon filling with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Weatherford reported that the company received a letter from NYSE stating that it's stock had been suspended and that it was going to be delisted.

The NYSE decision comes days after the Swiss company with principal offices in Houston announced it had reached a deal with its top creditors and plans to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy by July 15. Traded on NYSE under the stock ticker symbol WFT, shares of Weatherford had been trading below $1 per share since mid-November. Weatherford's stock is now being traded on the "pink sheets" section of the OTC Markets under the stock ticker symbol WFTIF.

With roots in Texas going back to 1941, Weatherford is one of the largest oilfield service companies in the world. The global company had 67,000 employees at the beginning of 2014 but today, employs around 26,500 people in 80 nations. The company has seven locations in Texas, including four in the Houston area.

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Bill to force Houston to sell water rights heads to governor’s desk

A bill that would force Houston to sell its water rights in a proposed reservoir west of Simonton, a maneuver Mayor Sylvester Turner has blasted as favoring industry over the city’s long-term interests, is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk.

The bill, which sailed through the Texas House last month and passed the Senate 26-5 on Thursday, would require Houston to sell its rights in the proposed Allens Creek Reservoir by the end of this year for up to $23 million. Turner said he was disappointed in the Senate vote and suggested the city may turn to the courts to block the bill, should the governor sign it into law.

The buyer of Houston’s 70 percent share of the reservoir would be the current holder of the other 30 percent, the Brazos River Authority. The authority says huge petrochemical plants downstream in the Lake Jackson area have foregone expansions due to a lack of water resources, which authority leaders would offer at a lower price than the city. Turner has said that proposed maximum payment offered in the bill would repay only what Houston has spent on the project, not compensate the city for the loss of 15 percent of its surface water rights, stressing Houston has no other readily available source to replace the roughly 65,000 acre-feet of water that it would lose.

Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2019

Tiffany Muller: Rep. Allred is working to reform the campaign finance system, not undermine it with an online app

Last fall, Rep. Colin Allred helped organize a letter with over 100 House challengers demanding congressional leaders make reforming our broken campaign finance system the first priority of the 116th Congress.

Allred was part of the wave of reformers elected last fall who got down to business as soon as they were sworn in to fight corruption in Washington. Allred co-sponsored and voted for H.R. 1, the For the People Act, aimed at ending the dominance of big money in politics, making it easier to vote, and ensuring public officials are working in the public interest. His amendment to require voters be notified of changes in their polling place was included as part of the legislation that passed the U.S. House in March.

Unlike a lot of politicians Texas voters are used to, Allred made a promise and he's delivering on it. And that's why he's starting to face false attacks. In a recent Dallas Morning News op-ed, Allred was criticized for using the online fundraising nonprofit called ActBlue. ActBlue is simply a service provider. Modern campaigns must be able to raise money online and ActBlue is the best way for candidates to do that. The organization focuses on increasing participation of small-dollar donors in our political and nonprofit landscapes. Through the company's years of experience and nonstop testing, ActBlue has made its donation forms as fast and efficient as possible without sacrificing safety and security.

Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2019

Dallas could land major Uber expansion, thousands of jobs

Dallas is a leading contender for a major expansion by ride-hailing giant Uber that would transform the city into one of the tech company’s largest hubs outside of San Francisco, company officials confirmed Thursday.

Uber has zeroed in on a site in Deep Ellum for an office that’d have several thousand employees, from engineers and finance executives to salespeople. The office would span Uber’s businesses, from delivering food to developing a new urban air taxi service.

Uber has narrowed its list to fewer than a handful of cities and plans to make a decision by late August, Uber spokesman Travis Considine said. He declined to name the other cities being considered. If Uber chooses Dallas, it’s planning to move into the Epic, an 8-acre development that’s on the eastern edge of downtown Dallas in Deep Ellum, Considine said. It is at Elm Street and Good-Latimer Expressway.

Dallas Morning News - May 17, 2019

Hoping to fix long lines at driver's license centers, Texas House gives initial OK to DPS changes

The Texas House on Thursday gave initial approval to changes meant to alleviate long lines at the Department of Public Safety’s driver’s license centers.

Senate Bill 616 by Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, would increase the expiration term of driver’s licenses from six to eight years -- the maximum allowed under federal law -- and would commission a third-party study on moving the issuance of driver’s licenses from DPS to the Department of Motor Vehicles, which oversees in the process in many other states.

The study must be completed by Sept. 1, 2020, to give the next Legislature, which convenes in January 2021, time to act on its findings. If the study is not completed, the transfer to the DMV would happen automatically by Sept. 1, 2021. The state’s Sunset Advisory Commission, which routinely reviews state agencies for efficiency, provided these recommendations last year. But to take effect, the recommendation must be approved by the Legislature. Rep. Chris Paddie, R-Marshall, who sponsored the legislation in the House, said the bill focused on the agency’s administrative operations and did not make changes to its law enforcement functions.

Austin American-Statesman - May 15, 2019

Ken Herman: You probably won’t see Sid Miller’s gas pump stickers much longer

The Texas House, following the lead of the Texas Senate, voted Wednesday to stop Texas Ag Commish Sid Miller from sticking his stickers on the gas pumps of Texas. The voice-vote preliminary approval was on Senate Bill 2119, which would move the regulation of fuel pumps from Miller’s Texas Department of Agriculture to the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

The bill would change the way gas pumps have been regulated in Texas since the 1930s, when it somehow was appropriate for the Texas Department of Agriculture to keep a watchful regulatory eye over such things.

Miller’s none too happy about his name coming off the pumps. Texans need him overseeing them, he told legislators at an April hearing of the House International Relations and Economic Development Committee. At that hearing, Paul Hardin, president and CEO of the Texas Food and Fuel Association, said the group’s members have had their “ups and downs” and “butting of heads” in dealing with Miller as pumpmaster general.

Austin American-Statesman - May 17, 2019

Group keeps vow to sue UT again over race in admissions

A nonprofit group sued the University of Texas on Thursday in state District Court in Travis County, contending that it is violating the Texas Constitution and state law by considering the race and ethnicity of applicants for admission.

Students for Fair Admissions Inc. filed a virtually identical lawsuit against UT in 2017, but Judge Scott H. Jenkins dismissed it in rulings last December and March. Jenkins found that the case was fatally flawed because the sole person put forward as a “standing member” was seeking to enroll in UT’s Butler School of Music, a category of applicants whose race and ethnicity are not considered.

At least three-fourths of UT’s freshmen from Texas gain admission under a state law that grants it automatically based solely on high school class rank. Most other applicants receive a so-called holistic review that takes race and ethnicity into account along with grades, essays, leadership qualities and numerous other factors. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld UT’s consideration of race and ethnicity in undergraduate admissions by a 4-3 vote three years ago. That case was organized by Blum, although the plaintiff was a white woman who had been denied admission.

Austin American-Statesman - May 16, 2019

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen blocked gun activists on Facebook, lawsuit says

The ongoing fight between Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and pro-gun rights activists has escalated into federal court with a lawsuit that accuses Bonnen of blocking them from posting on his public Facebook account and of removing comments in support of legislation that would let Texans carry firearms without a state-issued license to carry.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Austin, says Bonnen, R-Lake Jackson, violated the First Amendment by silencing those who peacefully support so-called constitutional carry. The activists Bonnen blocked, the lawsuit says, are Lone Star Gun Rights co-founder Justin Delosh and senior editor Derek Wills, along with another man who lives in the district that Bonnen represents. Without full access to the lawmaker’s Facebook account, the men could not post comments or express disapproval of any of Bonnen’s posts, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says Bonnen also blocked the Lone Star Gun Rights account, a move that prevents anyone who views Bonnen’s posts from seeing comments from that account. The plaintiffs are asking for relief that would restore their access to Bonnen’s Facebook page. A Bonnen spokeswoman said Thursday his office would not comment on the lawsuit because it is pending.

Columbus Dispatch - May 16, 2019

Austin political consultant John Weaver registers to lobby for Russians, then backs out

Austin-based political consultant John Weaver, a top adviser to former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, long has been a critic of most things Russian. On Twitter, he has denounced what he portrays as President Donald Trump’s chummy relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the lack of harsher U.S. sanctions on the country.

For a short period, Weaver intended to work for the Russians — for a reported payment of $350,000 for a six-month assignment to lobby against possible additional sanctions on Russia. Politico reported Wednesday night that Weaver registered as a foreign agent and signed a contract to lobby Congress and the Trump administration on behalf of the Tenam Corporation, a subsidiary of Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear energy company.

Weaver took to Twitter to defend his decision — but by midday Thursday changed course and tweeted he made a mistake — he has done no work, has not accepted a cent and is rejecting the contract. Weaver lists an Austin home address and Lakeway business address on his foreign-agent registration form. He served as Kasich’s top political strategist during the Ohio governor’s failed run for the Republican presidential nomination against Trump in 2016 and has remained a paid adviser. Since leaving office on Jan. 14, Kasich has become a paid speaker and commentator for CNN. Before changing course, Weaver, who regularly savages Trump and his policies, took to Twitter to explain his decision to accept the Russian assignment.

San Antonio Express-News - May 16, 2019

John Cornyn: Preventing another Sutherland Springs

Evil never triumphs. Just ask Mark Collins, associate pastor of the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Unthinkable tragedy shook his church when a deranged shooter opened fire during a Sunday service and killed 26 parishioners on Nov. 5, 2017. But the next Sunday — Collins was witness to something remarkable: One week after the shooting, the congregation overflowed and smashed its 100-year attendance record.

The shooter should not have been able to purchase a weapon. His previous convictions legally disqualified him. But because the Air Force did not upload this information into the federal background check database, he was able to unlawfully bring home four firearms from the store one day. Sadly, this tragedy is not an isolated incident. At that time, it was estimated that some 7 million criminal convictions, mental illness diagnoses and records — including at least 25 percent of felony convictions and a large number of convictions for misdemeanor domestic violence — were absent from the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Something had to be done.

Eleven days after the shooting, I introduced the Fix NICS Act to reform the system and ensure that all federal departments and agencies upload these required conviction records. It also encourages, to the greatest extent possible under the Constitution, state and local governments to do the same. It’s imperative that complete and accurate information is uploaded, that violent felons’ convictions are shared, and that those who legally are not entitled to possess a firearm do not gain access to one. I spent months building support for the Fix NICS Act, and eventually 77 Republican and Democrat senators co-sponsored the bill, and President Donald Trump signed it into law last March.

Texas Monthly - May 15, 2019

Chris Hooks: Inside the story of how Democrats killed a law that could have saved Sandra Bland

After Sandra Bland was arrested for a traffic infraction and later committed suicide in a Waller County jail in 2015, criminal justice reform advocates proposed reforms inspired by Bland’s case. Among the most important was a proposal to bar cops from arresting people for minor offenses punishable only by a fine.

House Bill 2754 died due to a toxic mixture of incompetence and bad faith in a lawmaking environment that speeds to a blur in the weeks at the end of the session, when it can be difficult for even veteran lawmakers to keep track of what’s going on on the floor. The trouble started just before the bill was passed, when its author, state representative James White, offered up a last-minute amendment. State representative Shawn Thierry, a Democrat from Houston, rose to ask White about his change.

If her nephew jaywalked on his way home from the neighborhood pool, could an officer arrest him if he didn’t have a driver’s license with him? White told the House that “identification” could include giving the officer a name, address, and date of birth. Scott Henson, a criminal justice blogger who advocated for the bill and wrote his own account of its failure, suggests that the amendment had been pushed by police groups like the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT, as a “poison pill” designed to stir up Democrats. If so, the tactic certainly worked. Several hours later, White bent to Democratic demands, making a motion to reconsider his own bill and redo the vote so that he could remove the language he had inserted.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

State agency rejects Montgomery County aquifer plan

A state agency has rejected the management plan submitted by new officials in charge of regulating Montgomery County’s aquifers, complicating their efforts to roll back limits on extraction of underground water. Texas Water Development Board officials notified the Lone Star Groundwater Conservation District on Wednesday afternoon that, in their opinion, the district’s new plan did not meet legal standards.

This means the board must continue to operate under its old rules for now. It cannot use a draft plan until the state board approves it. The state development board provided a copy of its letter to the Houston Chronicle. An attorney for the conservation district, Stacey Reese, wrote in an email Thursday that the district was still deciding how they would respond to it. Seven board members were elected last fall to oversee the conservation district, an entity charged with protecting the county’s aquifer supply while allowing as much water to be pumped as practical.

The new board adopted its plan on March 12, outlining an about-face from the way nine previous board members — who were appointed, rather than elected — guided the district. The previous board allowed water users to remove only as much water from the aquifer as was naturally replaced. Large water users had to cut back on what they were pumping and replace it with water from another source. Many utilities agreed to help pay for a $480 million new treatment plant on Lake Conroe to supplement their supply, but the result was residents frustrated with higher water bills. This led to new leadership.

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Attorneys square off over Harris County’s anti-prostitution lawsuit

Harris County’s attempts to crack down on prostitution came down Thursday to a series of basic questions. What makes a gesture lewd? What clothing is intentionally provocative? When does waving a hand become a proposition?

Those were among the questions lawyers tackled Thursday at a civil court hearing on the county’s unusual nuisance lawsuit aimed at halting open-air sex trafficking in the Bissonnet Track, a section of southwest Houston that has gained international notoriety among johns as a hotspot for pickups. Despite steady arrests by police, rampant in-your-face prostitution has persisted for decades on the Track, impeding the safety and everyday existence of residents and workers in Westwood and Forum Park.

Now the state and Harris County have asked a judge to find dozens of suspected prostitutes, pimps and johns with prior arrests in this .39-square-mile area in contempt if they try to engage in prostitution again. With a trial on the case still pending, state District Judge Michael Gomez heard arguments Thursday on whether the proposed ban violates the constitutional rights of the people it seeks to prohibit from hanging out in the so-called “anti-prostitution zone.”

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2019

Robert Wilonsky: Dallas plan commission does the right thing with vote to uphold Confederate War Memorial removal

Usually, city security doesn't put up metal detectors outside council chambers for City Plan Commission meetings. Last time I or anyone else can remember it happening was in 2013, when the commission shot down permits that would have allowed fracking in the floodplain in northwest Dallas. A simpler time.

The detectors were in place again Thursday because it was the plan commission's turn to hear The Case of the Confederate War Memorial — specifically, the appeals of Karen Pieroni and Chris Carter. Each paid their $700 to protest the Landmark Commission's determination that the Dallas City Council was correct in February when it said the 122-year-old Frank Teitch sculpture in Pioneer Park Cemetery is a "a non-contributing structure" inside its historic bounds. It was not money well spent. After five hours of waiting and two hours of debating, the plan commission unanimously sided with Landmark and the council.

Which means, barring any litigation — which I would not rule out, if the past is any precedent — the city is one step closer to removing from the next-door Pioneer Park Cemetery the towering Lost Cause vulgarity from 1897 guarded by life-sized statues of the President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis and his generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Albert Sidney Johnston. Removing. Not destroying. Removing. At the cost of about $500,000 — which the hopes to raise by selling Alexander Phimister Proctor's 1935 statue Robert E. Lee and Young Soldier, whose removal from an Oak Lawn park in 2017 somehow did not cause anyone forget about something called the Civil War.

Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2019

Did Dallas Catholic Diocese properly report allegations to CPS? Victims' advocates say officials should’ve done more

In their search-warrant affidavit that allowed officers to seize boxes of files from Dallas Catholic Diocese offices Wednesday, Dallas police launched a salvo of accusations against church officials about their handling of sexual abuse allegations. Among them: Diocese’ leaders over the years hadn’t properly reported allegations to Child Protective Services.

State law requires anyone who suspects child abuse and neglect to make a report to the Department of Family Protective Services, which oversees the CPS. But children’s advocates and the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests — known as SNAP — said Thursday that the diocese's reporting efforts appeared minimal, and that officials should’ve better involved proper law enforcement agencies from the beginning.

“If someone tells you about a crime that was committed, you tell the police,” said Zach Hiner, SNAP’s executive director. Dallas police believe the diocese stonewalled its investigations into accused priests, and the affidavit included a section about missing CPS reports as evidence that the diocese hadn’t been fully cooperative. Catholic officials say they have been transparent in recent years and have cooperated with law enforcement. But that’s where the matter gets thorny. Even if the church had thoroughly reported allegations to CPS, it’s unclear what the state would have done with the information, since the agency primarily handles family matters.

San Antonio Express-News - May 16, 2019

San Antonio group takes aim at domestic violence and Brockhouse’s mayoral bid

A group of San Antonio women leaders, many of them mothers, women of faith and some of them former victims of domestic violence, have been pressed into action to denounce the mayoral candidacy of Councilman Greg Brockhouse.

Within a few days, its members will go before the public to declare that his election would send a terrible message to victims of domestic violence, who are already reluctant to report husbands, boyfriends, co-workers and friends, people who purport to love them but instead hurt them physically, psychologically, professionally and financially.

The grass-roots group, m?tú: Diversity Defeating Violence, will stand together to warn San Antonians that tolerating domestic violence tells women that abuse won’t be treated seriously by law enforcement, and that women can be threatened, beaten up and worse with impunity. More specifically, m?tú will express how horrified its members are not only by the two accusations of domestic violence against Brockhouse, but that he remains reluctant to speak about the second incident, from 2009, beyond categorical denials.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 16, 2019

Lawsuit: Hackers stole $515,000, Fort Worth employee data compromised in security breach

Hackers stole more than $515,000 from the city of Fort Worth and employees with criminal convictions were allowed access to a confidential FBI criminal database, according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday by a former IT manager against the city.

William Birchett alleges that he was fired in February in retaliation for reporting to officials that the city’s cybersecurity had been severely compromised, including that the city had lied about its compliance with FBI crime database regulations, and had left city employees’ medical and personal information accessible to anyone with internet access. The lawsuit states Birchett reported his findings and a proposal to fix the issues to Kevin Gunn, the city’s acting chief financial officer, and Roger Wright, the city’s acting chief technology officer, but to no avail.

“Gunn and Wright rejected Birchett’s remediation proposal in part because the expense would have required approval from the City Council and would entail public disclosure of the deficiencies, bad public relations, and accountability questions as to how and why the City’s cybersecurity was 90% non-compliant,” the lawsuit alleges. When Gunn and Wright would not heed his warnings of non-compliance, Birchett reported the security breaches to law enforcement agencies, including the Texas Department of Public Safety and Fort Worth police, the lawsuit states. In retaliation, he was placed on administrative leave and ultimately fired in February, the suit states.

National Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 17, 2019

A Bush, a Yeltsin and a Blair turn up heat on Kuwait over CEO’s imprisonment

Neil Bush, son of the late former president, is deeply involved in a legal fight playing out in the Middle East over the fate of an imprisoned Russian woman, a battle featuring a cast of global characters and an unusual alliance of American and Russian interests.

Bush, of Houston, made his fourth trip to Kuwait this month on behalf of Marsha Lazareva, a U.S.-educated investment manager who was convicted of embezzlement and faces other charges related to alleged financial crimes. As a consultant to a company run by Lazareva, Bush invokes the Gulf War and George H.W. Bush’s success in freeing Kuwait from Saddam Hussein-led Iraq, warning that keeping Lazareva locked up threatens Kuwait’s standing in the world.

The fight to free Lazareva is being waged on the public relations front as well as by legal luminaries in court, with relatives of the famous recruited to the case to raise humanitarian alarms in hopes of bringing global pressure on Kuwait. Cherie Blair, a human rights lawyer and wife of former UK prime minister Tony Blair, is involved, as is former Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s daughter, Tatyana Yumasheva. Former FBI director Louis Freeh, who headed the agency in the Clinton administration and briefly under President George W. Bush, is also on Lazreva’s team and has traveled to Kuwait for the courtroom drama playing out on recent Sundays.

Houston Chronicle - May 14, 2019

Erica Grieder: America’s farmers probably aren’t convinced that trade wars are ‘easy to win’

The people of the United States are rejoicing this week, thanks to President Donald Trump’s decision to raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports. The celebrations have been particularly clamorous in Texas, which leads the nation in exports. There’s really nothing better for our state’s economy than a good old-fashioned trade war. I’m kidding, of course.

Trade wars are really bad for Texas; we all know that, even though our state’s Republican leaders have been reluctant to tell Trump as much in public. It would have been nice for someone in a position of high office in Texas to have taken notice last week, when trade talks in Washington failed to yield an agreement between the United States and China.

Trump responded to that development by announcing that he would raise tariffs, and China responded to Trump’s decision by explaining, in a statement, that it was prepared to retaliate. A deal is still possible, and both sides have said that they are hoping to strike one. But Trump’s decision to raise the stakes is unsettling, as is the aplomb with which he has defended that decision in public statements. Even if that’s true, it’s a bit impolitic to say things like that during the course of negotiations premised on the prospect of a mutually advantageous outcome.

Governing - May 16, 2019

Do tax breaks help or hurt a state’s finances? New study digs deep.

The debate over tax incentives usually centers on whether they lead to job creation and other economic benefits. But governments must also pay attention to their own bottom lines. This begs the question: How do all the financial incentives that states offer actually influence fiscal health?

New research seeks to answer that question. Using data from the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, researchers at North Carolina State University tallied all incentives offered by 32 states from 1990 to 2015, effectively covering 90 percent of incentives nationally. What they found doesn’t portray incentives in a positive light. Most of the programs they looked at -- investment tax credits, property tax abatements, and tax credits for research and development -- were linked with worse overall fiscal health for the jurisdiction that enacted them.

The forthcoming study represents what’s likely the first large-scale national analysis examining how various incentives influence state finances. To assess fiscal health, McDonald’s team considered three measures: state debt, dependence on the federal government as a source of revenue, and the ratio of total expenditures to revenues. They further controlled for 17 other factors, including economic growth, demographics and political party control.

Construction Citizen - May 15, 2019

Ridesharing giant Uber moves to settle worker misclassification claims

Prior to what turned out to be a disappointing IPO for investors, ridesharing giant Uber Technologies told the federal government that it was moving to settle thousands of claims by drivers that they should be compensated as employees rather than independent subcontractors.

Worker misclassification spans many industries and has been called a “scourge” in construction. Many workers are paid by the piece when they should, under law, be compensated as employees entitled to benefits like accident insurance and a retirement. In a document filed with the Securities & Exchange Commission, Uber said the independent contractor status of its drivers “is currently being challenged in courts and by government agencies in the United States and abroad.”

While the company continues to insist that its drivers are independent contractors, its leadership says they’ve reached agreements that would “resolve the classification claims” of tens of thousands of its drivers in the United States. The company anticipates paying out claims and attorneys’ fees of between $146 million to $170 million for the matter. The preliminary settlement approval hearing will be in July.

Roll Call - May 15, 2019

Administration wants to reimburse Taliban’s travel expenses

The Trump administration asked Congress earlier this year for funds to reimburse Afghanistan’s Taliban for expenses the insurgent group incurs attending peace talks, according to a spokesman for the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.

The money would cover the Taliban’s costs for expenses such as transportation, lodging, food and supplies, said Kevin Spicer, spokesman for Indiana Democrat Peter J. Visclosky, in a statement for CQ Roll Call. “The Defense Department requested fiscal 2020 funding to support certain reconciliation activities, including logistic support for members of the Taliban and, in March 2019, they sent a notification letter to the Committee on using fiscal year 2019 funds for similar activities,” Spicer said.

The Pentagon’s request to funnel U.S. funds to the Taliban “would implicate provisions of law concerning material support to terrorists, the Taliban’s ongoing offensive operations against U.S. service members, and their continuing lack of acknowledgement of the government of Afghanistan or the rights of women in Afghan society,” said Spicer.

CityLab - May 8, 2019

David Swenson: Most of America’s rural areas are doomed to decline

Since the Great Recession, most of the nation’s rural counties have struggled to recover lost jobs and retain their people. The story is markedly different in the nation’s largest urban communities. I’m writing from Iowa, where every four years presidential hopefuls swoop in to test how voters might respond to their various ideas for fixing the country’s problems.

But what to do about rural economic and persistent population decline is the one area that has always confounded them all. The facts are clear and unarguable. Most of the nation’s smaller urban and rural counties are not growing and will not grow. Let’s start with my analysis of U.S. Commerce Department data. Metropolitan areas consist of those counties with central cities of at least 50,000, along with the surrounding counties that are economically dependent on them. They make up 36 percent of all counties.

Between 2008, the cusp of the Great Recession, and 2017, they enjoyed nearly 99 percent of all job and population growth. What remained of job and population growth was divided among the 21 percent of counties that are called micropolitans, which have midsized cities with between 10,000 and 50,000 residents, and the remaining 42 percent of counties that are rural. Nationally, 71 percent of all metropolitan counties grew between 2008 and 2017, but more than half of the remaining micropolitan and rural counties did not grow or shrank in population.

Austin American-Statesman - May 16, 2019

Why Trump judicial nominees won’t endorse Brown v. Board of Education

Sitting before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, Ada Brown, one of only two African American state appellate jurists in Texas, was asked whether she thought the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling Brown vs. Board of Education was correctly decided. She wouldn’t say.

Brown, nominated to be a federal district judge in Dallas, said she benefited from the decision personally but cited a judicial canon that she and dozens of Trump administration judicial nominees, including six others from Texas, have said in their confirmation hearings prevents them from commenting on court decisions. The Brown ruling, issued 65 years ago Friday, ended state laws establishing a “separate but equal” system of racial segregation in public schools.

“Brown is a landmark case,” Brown, a justice on the Dallas-based 5th Court of Appeals, said at the April 30 hearing. “Because of Brown v. Board of Education, I went to an excellent integrated school where my father went to a very poor segregated school. That being said, I think it would be violative of Canon 3A(6) for me to give a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down as to whether or not the Supreme Court correctly decided the case.” The conservative Federalist Society has backed a number of the Trump nominees — Brown said she joined the organization last year after hearing a speaker at a Dallas event — and some lawyers who are members have questioned the legal reasoning behind the decision.

Wall Street Journal - May 16, 2019

Intelligence suggests US, Iran misread each other, stoking tensions

Intelligence collected by the U.S. government shows Iran’s leaders believe the U.S. planned to attack them, prompting preparation by Tehran for possible counterstrikes, according to one interpretation of the information, people familiar with the matter said.

That view of the intelligence could help explain why Iranian forces and their allies took action that was seen as threatening to U.S. forces in Iraq and elsewhere, prompting a U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf region and a drawdown of U.S. diplomats in Iraq. Meanwhile, administration officials said President Trump told aides including his acting defense chief that he didn’t want a military conflict with Iran, a development indicating tensions in the U.S.-Iran standoff may be easing.

However, there are sharply differing views within the Trump administration over the meaning of intelligence showing Iran and its proxies making military preparations, people familiar with the matter said. Intelligence officials on Thursday briefed House and Senate leaders, along with the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate intelligence committees, on the Iran situation.

May 16, 2019

Lead Stories

Spectrum News - May 16, 2019

Speaker Bonnen: Merit-based teacher pay won’t be tied to test results

As Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen winds down his first session as head of the lower chamber, he’s confident he’ll get his priorities passed. But he didn’t shy away from predicting the Senate will accept the House’s stance on teacher pay.

“I don’t agree with doing a $5000 across-the-board raise,” Bonnen said. “If we just give every teacher $5000, we don’t have the ability to incentivize a teacher who might be willing to go to a more difficult campus.” For months, teachers and librarians have set their sights on a $5000 pay bump promised by the Senate. But the House’s pay raise is about $1850 per educator and would include all school staff.

Texas Tribune - May 15, 2019

Texas used money from the Help America Vote Act to help pay for its botched voter citizenship review

Texas’ botched search for noncitizens on the voter rolls, which ended in a legal settlement after state officials jeopardized the voting rights of thousands of legitimate voters, was paid for in part with dollars earmarked for bolstering election security amid concerns of interference in 2016.

The Secretary of State’s Office used roughly $121,000 in funds it received from the federal Help America Vote Act to run its search for supposed noncitizens. The dollar figure was provided to state lawmakers and confirmed Wednesday by a spokesman for the secretary of state who said it was a legitimate use of the money because it was meant to improve the state’s maintenance of its massive voter registration list.

Texas was granted $23.3 million as part of Congress’ 2018 reauthorization of the Help America Vote Act to help improve and secure elections. It allowed the state to put the money toward election security enhancements, including replacing voting equipment, upgrading election-related computer systems to address cybersecurity vulnerabilities and funding “other activities that will improve the security of elections for federal office.”

Washington Post - May 15, 2019

Trump prepares to unveil broad immigration plan but shows no signs of tempering hard-line rhetoric

President Trump on Wednesday warned again about the dangers of undocumented immigrants, signaling no plans to temper his rhetoric even as he prepares to unveil a broad proposal aimed at balancing public perception of his administration’s hard-line agenda.

Trump is scheduled to use a Rose Garden speech on Thursday to throw his support behind a plan developed with his son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, to move U.S. immigration toward a “merit-based system” that prioritizes high-skilled workers over those with family already in the country. Several Republican senators are expected to attend, officials said.

Austin American-Statesman - May 15, 2019

Distributor group on board with beer-to-go sales

One of the final hurdles that Texas brewers faced in their quest to get beer-to-go sales legalized in the state has been removed, just days before a crucial vote in the Texas Senate.

The Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas on Wednesday signed an agreement with the Beer Alliance of Texas and the Texas Craft Brewers Guild giving support for beer-to-go sales at the state’s manufacturing breweries, according to a document posted online and confirmed by the guild. Such breweries include Real Ale Brewing, Celis Brewery and Austin Beerworks locally.

The agreement has one notable stipulation: Breweries would be able to sell one case of beer per day to customers, versus the two cases that had been previously proposed. But they’ll still be able to sell the equivalent of up to 5,000 barrels of beer through their taprooms and decide how much of those sales would go toward on- or off-premise consumption. Before Wednesday, the distributor group had been opposed to beer-to-go, arguing that allowing it would erode the three-tier system that governs the production, distribution and sale of alcohol in Texas. The Beer Alliance also was once opposed but forged a compromise with the guild in February.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - May 15, 2019

Texas GOP wants stronger penalties for illegal voting tactics, but some worry about chilling effect

Voting rights groups and disability advocates descended on the Capitol on Wednesday to oppose a bill they say would have a chilling effect on voting and voter registration efforts.

Senate Bill 9 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would increase criminal penalties for providing false information on a voter registration application, increase the investigative powers of law enforcement over elections and require those assisting voters to fill out more detailed forms on how they are helping. The combination of proposals, voting rights advocates say, will scare away volunteers who help at voter registration drives or assist people with disabilities or the elderly cast a ballot because they won’t want to risk having a crime attached to their name.

Rep. Stephanie Klick, R-Fort Worth, who is shepherding the bill through the House, said many of the criticisms were based on the Senate version of the bill, which she amended before the hearing in front of the House Elections Committee on Wednesday. The committee was expected to debate the bill late into the evening. But opponents decried a decision by the committee, which is led by Klick, to end registration for witnesses seeking to testify on the bill within 30 minutes of the beginning of the hearing. They said many people had traveled from all over the state to testify.

Dallas Morning News - May 16, 2019

DMN Editorial: The state’s investment in cancer research is paying off, but is its funding sustainable?

No one knows when the next dollar spent on medical research will be the one that leads to an amazing breakthrough. It is a certainty, however, that dollars not spent will not change the world.

Texas holds the distinction of being the second largest public funder of cancer research, trailing only the federal government’s National Cancer Institute. It’s a little-known status gained when Texas voters in 2007 approved the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, a $3 billion state grant program commonly known as CPRIT, to fight cancer.

CPRIT has elevated Texas’ research capacity and reputation, but the time may have arrived for the organization and lawmakers to find an additional funding stream so that CPRIT doesn’t have to rely on the increased debt burden that comes with funding research through taxpayer-backed bonds. Here’s why: The program has disbursed about $2.26 billion of the $3 billion authorized after lawmakers created the agency in 2007, meaning that it needs to replenish its coffers. The House and Senate this session wisely agreed to reseed the program with another $3 billion, which CPRIT will receive if voters approve it in a constitutional amendment at the polls in November.

Dallas Morning News - May 15, 2019

Plano Republican says Democrat's amendment ‘gutted’ human trafficking bill giving Texas AG new power

The Texas House gave initial approval to a bill that would expand the power of the attorney general’s office to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases in the state, but only after an amendment was tacked on that its author said would “gut the bill.”

As originally filed, Senate Bill 1257 by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, would allow the attorney general’s office to prosecute human trafficking cases that had occurred in multiple counties in the state and cases contained in one county that a local prosecutor had declined to pursue. Once involved in an investigation, the attorney general’s office could pursue other crimes that were part of the same case.

Rep. Jeff Leach, R-Plano, who sponsored the legislation in the House, said the bill was intended to create a collaboration between local prosecutors and the state’s chief law enforcement agent “to ensure that cases involving these heinous crimes of human trafficking are actively being prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.” But Rep. Joe Moody, a Democrat from El Paso who is a former prosecutor, said the legislation would usurp the powers of local district attorneys. After a fierce debate, Moody succeeded in adding an amendment that removed the provision allowing the attorney general to get involved in cases in just one county and would require the approval of local prosecutors in a case involving multiple counties before getting involved. Moody said the bill would “create a healthy collaboration” while Leach said it “gutted” his legislation.

Dallas Morning News - May 15, 2019

Bill to legalize hemp, CBD products in Texas passes final hurdle

State lawmakers have approved a bill to legalize industrial hemp production and clear up confusion about what CBD products can be sold in Texas.

The Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously in favor of House Bill 1325. Now, House lawmakers must decide whether they agree with the Senate's amendments to the bill. If the House agrees, or the two chambers name negotiators to hash out the differences and sign off on their deal, the bill would head to Gov. Greg Abbott's desk for his signature or veto. Rep. Tracy King said he expects Abbott to sign his bill into law.

The federal government removed hemp from its list of controlled substances, a move Texas replicated last month. But Texas has not opted into industrial hemp production, as have 42 other states. And because state law still defines marijuana and hemp as the same thing, products with any amount of THC are technically still illegal in Texas unless they're used in line with state medical cannabis laws. King's bill would set up a federally approved program for Texas farmers to grow hemp as a crop, including procedures for sampling, inspection and testing. It also would expand the kind of hemp products that can be legally purchased in Texas to include any hemp or hemp-derived products containing less than 0.3 percent of tetrahydrocannabinol.

San Antonio Express-News - May 15, 2019

Texas Senate revives ‘Save Chick fil-A’ bill that House LGBTQ Caucus killed

Less than a week after the first-ever Texas LGBTQ House Caucus celebrated its defeat of what’s come to be known as the “Save Chick-fil-A” bill, a new version of the legislation passed in the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill got its nickname after the San Antonio City Council in March voted to bar Chick-fil-A from opening airport concessions due to the fast-food chain owners' record on LGBT issues. Senate Bill 1978, sponsored by state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, would bar governments from punishing people and companies for affiliating or donating to a religious organization. After about three hours of Q-and-A by lawmakers, it passed on a 19-12 vote and is likely headed to the House, pending a final vote Thursday in the Senate.

This time, the LGBTQ Caucus will likely find it more difficult to derail. House Speaker Dennis Bonnen told Spectrum News on Wednesday that he supports the bill and believes it would pass in the House. Hughes offered an amended version of the bill Wednesday that changed the description of the type of person protected by the bill to those with “membership in, affiliation with, or contribution, donation or other support provided to a religious organization.”

San Antonio Express-News - May 16, 2019

Texas Senate votes to ditch driver responsibility program

The state’s driver responsibility program, which critics have called a debtor’s prison that has left an estimated 1.5 million Texans without drivers licenses, is on its way out in favor of other fees for impaired driving convictions and $2 more on everyone’s insurance premiums.

The Texas Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed HB 2048, which repeals the driver responsibility program but provides money for trauma care in the state that the program originally was intended to fund. The bill, by state Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, increases all traffic fines in the state by $20, adds $2 to motor vehicle insurance bills for all Texans, and adds up to $6,000 to the fines and fees of a drunken-driving conviction.

The House passed it unanimously earlier this month. The bill, if signed by Gov. Abbott, would take effect Sept. 1, and immediately restore the ability of tens of thousands of Texans to renew their driver licenses. The program is almost universally considered problematic, with advocacy groups saying it traps low-income Texans in a system that forces them to drive illegally to work, in order to pay off excessive fines. In a tweet on Wednesday, the Texas Association of Counties called it a “burden on our county courts.” Emergency room operators around the state supported the changes, so long as trauma funding was not impacted.

KHOU - May 15, 2019

One year after the Santa Fe High School shooting, are students any safer?

It’s been a whirlwind of a year for Rhonda Hart. Her daughter, Kimberly Vaughan, was killed in the shooting at Santa Fe High School on May 18, 2018. Rhonda has since moved from Santa Fe—wanting to get away from the posters and t-shirts that carried her daughter’s name and the hashtag the community has rallied around: #SantaFeStrong.

She quit her job as a bus driver for the district—frustrated by the fact she was trusted to protect students while, she feels, district leaders couldn’t protect her daughter. She’s angry at politicians who flooded the town the day of the shooting and promised changes were coming. Those changes and promises, she said, haven’t been kept, and she believes little has been done to protect students and make schools safer.

Flo Rice was a substitute teacher in the gym the day of the shooting. She was shot in both legs, breaking her femur in one and suffering nerve damage in the other. She’s undergone multiple surgeries and months of physical therapy since the shooting. Rice has taken her fight to Austin. She and her husband have testified before lawmakers and worked with them to craft bills they believe would make a difference, especially those that would protect substitutes. Those include House bill 17 and Senate bill 11 that would require schools to give substitutes access to classroom phones so they can reach school leaders or police during an emergency.

Texas Monthly - May 13, 2019

Chris Hooks: The loudest and least effective legislator has actually passed a bill

After the 2018 election, when state representative Jonathan Stickland won re-election in his not-supposed-to-be-swingy district by just 1.4 percentage points, he told the Texas Tribune that it was time to turn over a new leaf.

“Look, I still have my same principles,” he said. “But a lot of times, it’s the way that you talk about your principles and the way that you pursue your agenda.” This was sort of like hearing Willie Nelson say that he was going to put aside weed for a while and focus on the music. Elected in 2012, Stickland has long been the Legislature’s foremost troll, often the loudest and least effective person there. Had “Sticky”—his nickname at the Capitol—really grown up? The answer is: sorta.

After six years, he passed his first bill, a measure prohibiting new red light cameras, which is nothing short of astonishing. But on the same day the first bill cleared the House, he won yet another round of national infamy for tweeting at a Baylor scientist that vaccines were “sorcery.” Stickland seems to judge his own efficacy by just one metric: how much other people are annoyed at him. That’s made him a tragicomic figure at the Lege, where he has spent much of his time killing countless minor bills and making a general nuisance of himself on the floor, but rarely posing much of a threat to the powers-that-be. On one occasion, state representative Charlie Geren, a veteran establishment Republican, tied a string to a cookie in an attempt to lure Stickland away from the back mic.

Austin Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Texas Secretary of State gets schooled on voting rights

Texas Secretary of State David Whitley – the frontman of Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton's effort to suppress the vote with cries of fraud – recently participated, with much apparent satisfaction, in a first-ever voting rights history tour in Alabama to "reflect upon the struggles, sacrifices, and successes of voting rights leaders in the early 1960s and beyond."

Whitley, who grabbed national headlines by bungling an attempt to question the citizenship of 95,000 voters and ultimately settling three separate civil rights lawsuits against the state, joined 19 other states' top election officials, who likely scooted away from the Texas SoS during photo-op hour. Might we offer another tour suggestion?

"It's nice to see Whitley has finally realized it might actually be important to the job of Texas' chief election officer to know a bit about voter suppression, but he hardly needed to leave the state for that," said Anthony Gutierrez of voting rights group Common Cause. "He could have visited some of the thousands of people he himself was trying to knock off the voter rolls, or he could even just come hang out in the House Elections Committee hearing later this week on Senate Bill 9..."

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - May 16, 2019

Richard Greene: Hometown control, freedom under attack in Texas Legislature

It’s going to be real interesting to see how citizens across Texas react when they come to realize that the state has taken over control of their cities. At first it may seem OK since our legislators have mastered the practice of making us think they are saving us from the actions of the men and women we have chosen to manage our public affairs.

Everyone likes the sound of property tax reform and many believe it will lead to the lowering of our annual bill from the county tax assessor. When reality sets in with the result of an arbitrary cap being placed on revenues that cities and school districts need to support our daily lives and educate our children, it will be too late to restore the quality of life we once enjoyed.

Not only will our property tax bill have increased again, now we will be faced with questions of what we would be willing to give up, since local governments won’t have the resources to do what we’ve said over and over we want. So while we wait until that outcome sets in, we can temporarily celebrate with the men and women we sent to the state Capitol who come home and brag about how they reined in the mythical abuses of mayors, city council and school board members. Other than the hot topic of so-called tax reform, there’s a number of other things that most won’t even know about until their lives are impacted by the actions of legislators who have taken power away from we the people.

Texas Tribune - May 14, 2019

"People were giving us lip service": Texas cities' legislative efforts have struggled this year

The interest group representing Texas cities used to be one of the most powerful legislative forces at the Capitol. This session, it has become the GOP’s most prominent adversary. Its members have been harangued at hearings. Targeted by a proposed ban on “taxpayer-funded lobbying.” And seen multiple proposals sail ahead over their protests.

When, around March, one mayor inquired about the reasoning for a controversial provision in a property tax bill, he said an adviser to Gov. Greg Abbott suggested, “You reap what you sow.” The message was clear, said McKinney Mayor George Fuller: Local officials had been obstructionists in the past. Although the antagonistic relationship between Texas cities and the state has been building for years, this session has reached the fever pitch of all-out legislative assault, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said in April.

Typically, the Texas Municipal League tracks bills it opposes that are gaining momentum in the Legislature. This session, the group had amassed more than 150. Among them was a bill regarding cable franchise fees authored by state Rep. Dade Phelan, a Beaumont Republican and chair of the powerful State Affairs Committee. After the Texas Municipal League warned its members the proposal could cut into cities’ revenues, Phelan had a concise response for the group, which represents 1,156 of Texas’ roughly 1,200 cities. “When you are in a hole — you should stop digging,” Phelan recommended in an email obtained by The Texas Tribune.

Austin American-Statesman - May 15, 2019

Texas House adds arrest report measure to open records package

An effort to require police departments to release arrest reports in cases in which the suspect died or all subjects agree to a report’s release passed the Texas House on Wednesday, a day after it was revived by an amendment.

House Bill 147, authored by Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, was approved by the House State Affairs Committee 9-3 but never received a vote by the full House before last week’s deadline for bills to be approved by the body. To revive the measure, Moody on Tuesday added his original bill’s text to Senate Bill 944, a broad open records bill authored by Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, as it was being considered by the House. SB 944 was drafted to address complaints that the Texas Public Information Act is bureaucratic and inefficient.

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, R-Southlake, leading the bill through the House on behalf of Watson, said Wednesday he would contest any amendment to SB 944 because the bill was carefully negotiated among interest groups. The House voted 57-78 on a motion to table the amendment, showing the amendment had majority support. Following that vote, Capriglione accepted the measure, and the House approved the final bill unanimously. Moody’s provision was inspired by the death of Graham Dyer, a Mesquite 18-year-old who died in police custody in 2013. Moody told the House that his bill would have closed the loophole accidentally created in 1997 when the Legislature tried to protect innocent people against the release of arrest records if they were never convicted of a crime.

County Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

Is Harris County’s proposed prostitution ban constitutional? Judge set to hear arguments Thursday

A controversial lawsuit seeking to ban street prostitution on a notorious strip of Bissonnet in southwest Houston will come before a state judge Thursday as lawyers address whether the proposed injunction violates the constitutional rights of the accused prostitutes, pimps and johns it seeks to prohibit from the zone.

Lawyers donating their services to defend some of the suspected prostitutes have argued that the injunction - akin to a gang injunction - is too broad and encroaches on their clients’ right to beckon people, stand on corners, wait at bus stops or talk on a cell phone in the area. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas submitted a similar argument in a friend-of-the-court brief.

But a lawyer for Harris County has argued the injunction is a fair and appropriate remedy to the incessant blight caused by prostitution. Neighborhood groups support the ban, saying that blatant hustling and pick-ups on the Bissonnet Track threaten people’s safety and diminish the quality of life in Westwood and Forum Park. The state and Harris County brought the civil nuisance suit in August as a “tool of last resort” to address a growing problem, according to Celena Vinson, chief architect of the injunction for the county attorney’s office. Houston police have arrested nearly 1,500 people for engaging in prostitution in the area in the past five years, some multiple times.

Houston Chronicle - May 15, 2019

Trial chief David Mitcham to step in as top lieutenant after DA Office shake-up

A day after Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg forced out a top lieutenant in the latest office shake-up, officials confirmed Trial Bureau Chief David Mitcham will step in to assume the role as First Assistant District Attorney.

"David has a long and distinguished career as a criminal trial lawyer and prosecutor; he's handled thousands of cases and understands the needs of our staff because he has walked in your shoes," Ogg wrote Wednesday in an office-wide email announcing the change. "While you all have known him over the past two and one half years as the Trial Bureau Chief, I have known David for more than three decades as a colleague, friend and outstanding lawyer."

Ogg went on to praise his trial record from his early days as a prosecutor more than 35 years ago. "As a front-line prosecutor in 1983," Ogg wrote, "his trial record of 25 trials (24 wins) in a single year still stands." In a statement to the Houston Chronicle, Mitcham said he was "honored and humbled" to take on the new role and "to assist the people of Harris County and Kim Ogg in our pursuit of justice." After starting his career as a prosecutor under then-District Attorney Johnny Holmes, Mitcham built a name for himself through decades of defense work. He left the district attorney's office in 1984 and four years later was elected president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - May 16, 2019

No layoffs after Prop B ruled unconstitutional, fire union to appeal

Mayor Sylvester Turner on Wednesday said the city would rescind layoff notices issued to more than 300 firefighters and municipal employees after a state district judge ruled Proposition B, the pay parity measure approved by voters last November, unconstitutional.

In her ruling, District Judge Tanya Garrison said Prop B was preempted by a chapter of the Texas Local Government Code, and declared it void because it violates the Texas Constitution. The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by the Houston Police Officers' Union following the November election that argued the pay parity measure requiring the city to pay firefighters the same as police of corresponding rank and seniority conflicts with a provision of the Local Government Code that says firefighters should receive comparable pay to that of private sector employees.

The ruling came days after the city sent Prop B-adjusted paychecks to firefighters, and three weeks before Houston city council is scheduled to consider approving the city’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Turner has estimated that fully implementing the firefighters' raises mandated by Prop B would cost the city $79 million a year, contributing to a $179 million budget hole the council must close by the end of June. Unless the raises are phased in over several years, the city would have to lay off hundreds of employees to help offset the cost, he has said. The Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association quickly said it would appeal Garrison’s ruling, and later filed a “notice of appeal” with her court.

Houston Chronicle - May 15, 2019

Survey shows decline in numbers living on streets, in shelters in Houston area

Despite public attention and debate over homeless issues this year, the Houston area experienced a 5 percent reduction in this population after an uptick in 2018, according to an annual count released on Wednesday.

The 2019 Homeless Count & Survey, coordinated by the local Coalition for the Homeless from Jan. 22 to Jan. 24, found a total of 3,938 individuals experiencing homelessness in the Houston, Pasadena, Harris County, Fort Bend County and Montgomery County areas. The survey found that 41 percent of the homeless people were living on the streets; the rest were in shelters.

Harris County, including Houston, accounted for 2,052 homeless people in shelters and 1,515 on the streets. In Montgomery County, 212 people of almost 300 counted were in shelters, and in Fort Bend, 60 out of 73. The homeless population counted represents one in every 1,541 residents in the three counties, or 0.065 percent, the survey’s report says. “The 5 percent decrease is even more impressive when you put it in context with the impact that Hurricane Harvey had in our city,” said Marc Eichenbaum, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s special assistant for for homeless initiatives.

Dallas Morning News - May 15, 2019

Sharon Grigsby: ‘Same ol’ blind eye’: Thank goodness police ran out of patience with Dallas Catholic Diocese on sex abuse

For the sake of Myrna Dartson and the many others who have suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church, it’s a relief to see law enforcement run out of patience with the local diocese and its foot-dragging on sex abuse allegations.

Wednesday’s search warrant affidavit lays out accusations of how the diocese stonewalled the police’s good-faith efforts to investigate allegations of sexual violence. Dartson, who got a run-around from the church in the 1980s about her accusations of inappropriate behavior by a priest, was the first person I thought about after hearing that the police had raided diocese offices Wednesday. The first words out of her mouth when I called her were “None of this is surprising. So much is still being covered up.”

Victims’ voices went unheard for years as the Dallas Catholic Diocese claimed that it had done nothing wrong. And when it could no longer cling to that outrageous and arrogant lie in the face of growing evidence of molestations and allegations of cover-ups, the diocese begrudgingly apologized. Most recently, Bishop Edward J. Burns has claimed to lead the way on transparency as he challenged other dioceses and even the Vatican to do better. But at its best — and I use that word with a large degree of skepticism — the local diocese and the church universal still haven’t done enough. It’s another part of a piecemeal and lawyered approach to dealing with what amounts to a criminal conspiracy that allowed the sexual assault of minors to go on for decades.

Dallas Morning News - May 15, 2019

How police felt stonewalled by Dallas Diocese at every turn in sex abuse investigation

An affidavit Dallas police used to obtain a search warrant Wednesday to raid Dallas Catholic Diocese offices laid out allegations against five priests and suggested the church subverted police efforts to obtain more information.

The affidavit, signed by Detective David Clark, who is working full-time on sex abuse allegations within the Diocese, sought to seize Diocese records because the church hadn’t handed over all the records it had about allegations against the priests. All five priests are on the Diocese’s list of 31 “credibly accused” priests, which the church released in January.

That list included only accusations against priests that the Diocese concluded were credible after a review by former law enforcement officials and the Diocean Review Board. But the records handed over to police were not complete, Clark wrote. The accused priests could not be reached for comment and none have been arrested. One priest previously said he should not be included in the credibly accused list.

Longview News-Journal - May 16, 2019

Marshall city commissioner denies election fraud claim from challenger

A recently reelected Marshall city commissioner has denied allegations of election fraud presented by her challenger from the May 4 election. District 2 Marshall City Commissioner Gail Beil edged out Leo Morris Sr. in the election by 15 votes, 126 to 111.

Morris last week filed an election fraud complaint against Beil with the Harrison County District Clerk’s office. He charges Beil with committing election fraud by hiring campaign worker Mary Smith, who voted early in April then arrived at the polls on election day — an act he said violated election code. Morris had photographs taken of Smith at Marshall Convention Center, a polling location, on election day. He requested in his complaint that the election be “nullified” and the city of Marshall pay for a new election.

Beil’s lawyer responded to the allegations late Monday. “I have volunteered on a pro bono basis to represent my longtime friend Gail Beil and her campaign against false accusations of election fraud brought by Leo Morris,” Mike Miller said. He said Beil had not received a copy of the allegations as of Monday evening. “But, based on my preliminary investigation, it appears that Mr. Morris’ accusations are ill founded both legally and factually,” Miller said. Miller said Beil is owed an apology, because Morris didn’t check the election code he is citing in his complaint for case precedent before bringing the election fraud claims.

San Antonio Express-News - May 16, 2019

Progressive group stays on the sidelines in San Antonio mayor’s race

The day after San Antonio’s May 4 municipal election, Mayor Ron Nirenberg called Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project. Nirenberg wanted to meet — again — with members of the progressive group, which does community and election organizing and has gained clout over the last year. The grassroots organization, known as TOP, notably did not endorse a candidate in the first round of the mayoral election.

Now that Nirenberg finds himself in a runoff against challenger Greg Brockhouse, he wants TOP’s support. He hasn’t gotten it — at least not yet. As a result, one of the city’s most prominent political players is staying on the sidelines as the campaign gains steam ahead of the June 8 runoff. After meeting with both mayoral candidates over the last week, TOP hadn’t decided on an endorsement as of Wednesday.

Rivard Report - May 15, 2019

Runoff outcomes could shift San Antonio City Council’s ‘progressive’ tilt

The outcome of three City Council runoffs could cause San Antonio’s progressive-leaning City Council of the last two years to swing back to a more philosophically divided body, posing to a challenge to whoever becomes mayor.

Voters in districts 2, 4, and 6 will choose their representatives in a June 8 runoff amid a citywide vote for mayor. But how effective that mayor will be depends largely on his ability to gather a majority of votes from council members willing to back his initiatives. Four out of seven incumbents have endorsed Mayor Ron Nirenberg, whose platform is largely viewed as progressive. Likewise, his initiatives largely have been supported by most Council incumbents except Clayton Perry (D10) and, on occasion, John Courage (D9).

While mayoral challenger Greg Brockhouse found himself in the minority as a councilman opposed to key issues – such as keeping the City’s property tax rates flat, adopting an affordable housing policy, and others – the runoffs provide an opportunity to nearly flip that script. Ideological differences could stymy the agenda of whoever becomes mayor with council-splitting votes. Nirenberg hasn’t lost a single major vote in his first term, but recently the council has become more divided on votes such as paid sick leave that impact local businesses.

National Stories

Associated Press - May 16, 2019

NYC Mayor de Blasio is seeking Democratic nod for president

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Thursday that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president, adding his name to an already long list of candidates itching for a chance to take on Donald Trump.

The mayor announced his run with a video released by his campaign. "There's plenty of money in this world. There's plenty of money in this country. It's just in the wrong hands," de Blasio says at the beginning of the video. He concludes: "I'm running for president because it's time we put working people first," de Blasio says at the video's conclusion. In announcing his candidacy, de Blasio is seeking to claim a role on the national stage that has eluded him as mayor of the biggest U.S. city.

When he took office in 2014, de Blasio seemed briefly poised to become a leading voice for an emerging left wing of the Democratic Party. But liberal enthusiasm faded over his first term, partly because of political missteps at home and the emergence of bigger names elsewhere. He could face obstacles trying to distinguish himself in a crowded field. De Blasio, 58, has drawn small audiences so far in visits to early primary states including Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada and New Hampshire, where an audience of six showed up for a mental health discussion. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 76% of New York City voters say they believe he shouldn't run.

Associated Press - May 15, 2019

Alabama law moves abortion to the center of 2020 campaign

Alabama’s new law restricting abortion in nearly every circumstance has moved one of the most polarizing issues in American politics to the center of the 2020 presidential campaign.

The state’s legislation — the toughest of several anti-abortion measures that have passed recently, with the only exception being a serious risk to the woman’s health — prompted an outcry from Democratic presidential candidates, who warned that conservatives were laying the groundwork to undermine the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Associated Press - May 16, 2019

White House launches survey looking for tech industry bias

On the heels of President Donald Trump's repeated assertions claiming anti-conservative bias by tech companies, the White House has launched an online form asking people to share their experiences if they think political partisanship has led them to be silenced by social media sites.

The White House's official Twitter account tweeted a link to the form Wednesday, saying that "The Trump Administration is fighting for free speech online." The tweet continues that "no matter your views, if you suspect political bias has caused you to be censored or silenced online, we want to hear about it!"

On the first page, the bare-bones online form reads like a tweet from the president, saying that "SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS should advance FREEDOM OF SPEECH. Yet too many Americans have seen their accounts suspended, banned, or fraudulently reported for unclear 'violations' of user policies." The questionnaire continues by asking people names, contact information, whether they are U.S. citizens or permanent residents and what happened to their social media accounts in question. It also asks if the respondent wants to sign up for the president's email newsletters, "so we can update you without relying on platforms like Facebook and Twitter."

CNBC - May 15, 2019

The Atlanta Fed’s GDP forecast is sliding, and expectations for rate cuts are surging

A Federal Reserve projection on economic growth just weakened substantially, and expectations for a rate cut over the next eight months got a lot stronger.

The Atlanta Fed’s closely watched GDPNow tracker is pointing to a 1.1% gain for the economy in the second quarter, according to a revision posted Wednesday. That comes on the back of a strong first three months that saw a 3.2% gain and is substantially lower than CNBC’s Rapid Update survey, which puts the GDP tracking estimate at 2%.

Disappointing retail sales in April fueled the latest leg down in the Atlanta Fed outlook. The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that sales declined 0.2% for the month against expectations of a 0.2% gain. Along with the retail letdown, industrial production fell 0.5% against Wall Street estimates of a 0.1% gain. Taken together, the weaker-than-expected numbers took a half percentage point off the Fed’s previous second-quarter estimate. The drop in the GDP forecast coincided with market expectations that the Fed will be lowering interest rates in the months ahead.

Washington Post - May 15, 2019

Trump, frustrated by advisers, is not convinced the time is right to attack Iran

The Trump administration has been on high alert in response to what military and intelligence officials have deemed specific and credible threats from Iran against U.S. personnel in the Middle East.

But President Trump is frustrated with some of his top advisers, who he thinks could rush the United States into a military confrontation with Iran and shatter his long-standing pledge to withdraw from costly foreign wars, according to several U.S. officials. Trump prefers a diplomatic approach to resolving tensions and wants to speak directly with Iran’s leaders.

Disagreements over assessing and responding to the recent intelligence — which includes a directive from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, that some American officials interpret as a threat to U.S. personnel in the Middle East — are also fraying alliances with foreign allies, according to multiple officials in the United States and Europe. Trump grew angry last week and over the weekend about what he sees as warlike planning that is getting ahead of his own thinking, said a senior administration official with knowledge of conversations Trump had regarding national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Houston Chronicle - May 15, 2019

US petroleum stockpiles surge by nearly 15 million barrels

U.S. petroleum stockpiles surged by nearly 15 million barrels last week even as U.S. oil production dipped slightly and crude exports rose.

The nation's commercial crude stocks jumped by 5.4 million barrels, but supplies of other oils also spiked by 5.6 million barrels and inventory levels of other products like propane and propylene rose by 2.8 million barrels, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Gasoline supplies actually dipped by 1.1 million barrels, but that did little to offset the overall rise of all petroleum products. The jumps came even though U.S. crude output is estimated to have fallen slightly to 12.1 million barrels a day from a record high of 12.2 million. Also, crude exports jumped to 3.35 million barrels daily from 2.32 million barrels a day the week prior.

New York Times - May 15, 2019

‘The time is now’: States are rushing to restrict abortion, or to protect it

In April, Indiana placed a near-total ban on the most common type of second-trimester abortion in the state. Days later, Ohio passed a bill banning abortion in the very early weeks of pregnancy after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Now on Wednesday, Gov. Kay Ivey of Alabama signed a bill effectively banning the procedure altogether.

States across the country are passing some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in decades, deepening the growing divide between liberal and conservative states and setting up momentous court battles that could profoundly reshape abortion access in America. “This has been the most active legislative year in recent memory,” said Steven Aden, general counsel of Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group.

The national race to pass new legislation began last fall, after President Trump chose Brett M. Kavanaugh to replace Justice Anthony M. Kennedy on the Supreme Court, adding what some predicted would be a fifth vote to uphold new limits on abortion. Red states rushed to pass more restrictions and blue states to pass protections. Now, as state legislative sessions draw to a close in many places, experts count about 30 abortion laws that have passed so far. That is not necessarily more than in past years, said Elizabeth Nash, a legal expert at the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.