October 25, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 25, 2021

Texas’ declining birth rate could slow economic growth, bring future labor shortages

Texans aren’t making babies fast enough to keep up with the number of jobs expected to be created in the state in coming years. And that worries economists and demographic experts who see a declining birth rate as a threat to the state’s super-charged business growth. The Lone Star State’s birth rate is falling off at a faster pace than the national average, which has been declining since its peak in 2007. From 2007 to 2019, the national birth rate fell from 69 to 58 babies per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. That’s a nearly 16% decline. In Texas, the dropoff was even more pronounced — falling over 21% from 79 births to 62 births. The rate of births in Texas and the U.S. isn’t high enough to even sustain current population levels, a measure known as the replacement rate, said Texas state demographer Lloyd Potter. In Texas, women have an average of 1.8 children in their lifetime while the replacement rate is 2.1 children.

“In 10 to 20 years, we’re going to start seeing pretty significant demand for labor that’s not being fulfilled for Texas,” he said. 2021 is giving employers a taste of what future labor shortages might look like, with workers displaced by the pandemic returning slowly — if at all — to jobs being offered. Their reasons run the gamut — some retired early, couples learned to live on one paycheck, minimum wage workers found higher-paying jobs and others reassessed their careers while living off financial cushions they built by spending less over the last 19 months. In August, the U.S. had 10.4 million job openings, according to the latest government data. In the same month, a record 4.3 million people quit their jobs. Future labor shortages caused by a long-term birth rate decline would cause a similar impact, leaving businesses short of hands to help keep them open and growing. Birth rates are declining nationally for the reasons most would expect, including women gaining higher levels of education and employment and delaying settling down, decreasing their window for having kids. The pandemic led to further birth declines, as is typical when unemployment rises and income falls.

Rolling Stone - October 25, 2021

Two Jan. 6 planners cooperate with committee, name MAGA Congress members

As the House investigation into the Jan. 6 attack heats up, some of the planners of the pro-Trump rallies that took place in Washington, D.C., have begun communicating with congressional investigators and sharing new information about what happened when the former president’s supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Two of these people have spoken to Rolling Stone extensively in recent weeks and detailed explosive allegations that multiple members of Congress were intimately involved in planning both Trump’s efforts to overturn his election loss and the Jan. 6 events that turned violent. Rolling Stone separately confirmed a third person involved in the main Jan. 6 rally in D.C. has communicated with the committee. This is the first report that the committee is hearing major new allegations from potential cooperating witnesses. While there have been prior indications that members of Congress were involved, this is also the first account detailing their purported role and its scope. The two sources also claim they interacted with members of Trump’s team, including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who they describe as having had an opportunity to prevent the violence.

Along with Marjorie Taylor Greene, the conspiratorial pro-Trump Republican from Georgia who took office earlier this year, the pair both say the members who participated in these conversations or had top staffers join in included Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas). And Gosar, who has been one of the most prominent defenders of the Jan. 6 rioters, allegedly took things a step further. Both sources say he dangled the possibility of a “blanket pardon” in an unrelated ongoing investigation to encourage them to plan the protests. “Our impression was that it was a done deal,” the organizer says, “that he’d spoken to the president about it in the Oval … in a meeting about pardons and that our names came up. They were working on submitting the paperwork and getting members of the House Freedom Caucus to sign on as a show of support.” The organizer claims the pair received “several assurances” about the “blanket pardon” from Gosar. “I was just going over the list of pardons and we just wanted to tell you guys how much we appreciate all the hard work you’ve been doing,” Gosar said, according to the organizer. The rally planner describes the pardon as being offered while “encouraging” the staging of protests against the election. While the organizer says they did not get involved in planning the rallies solely due to the pardon, they were upset that it ultimately did not materialize.

Wall Street Journal - October 25, 2021

Facebook’s internal chat boards show politics often at center of decision making

The employee said they were “emblematic of a concerted effort at Breitbart and similarly hyperpartisan sources (none of which belong in News Tab) to paint Black Americans and Black-led movements in a very negative way,” according to written conversations on Facebook’s office communication system reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. Many other employees chimed in to agree. In the same chat, a company researcher said any steps aimed at removing Breitbart—a right-wing publisher popular with supporters of former President Donald Trump —could face roadblocks internally because of the potential political blowback. “At best, it would be a very difficult policy discussion,” the researcher said. Facebook chose to keep Breitbart on News Tab. A spokeswoman for the tech giant said the company makes a judgment based on the specific content published on Facebook, not the entire Breitbart site, and that the Facebook material met its requirements, including the need to abide by its rules against misinformation and hate speech.

Many Republicans, from Mr. Trump down, say Facebook discriminates against conservatives. The documents reviewed by the Journal didn’t render a verdict on whether bias influences its decisions overall. They do show that employees and their bosses have hotly debated whether and how to restrain right-wing publishers, with more-senior employees often providing a check on agitation from the rank and file. The documents viewed by the Journal, which don’t capture all of the employee messaging, didn’t mention equivalent debates over left-wing publications. Other documents also reveal that Facebook’s management team has been so intently focused on avoiding charges of bias that it regularly places political considerations at the center of its decision making. Facebook employees, as seen in a large quantity of internal message-board conversations, have agitated consistently for the company to act against far-right sites. In many cases, they have framed their arguments around Facebook’s enforcement of its own rules, alleging that Facebook is giving the right-wing publishers a pass to avoid PR blowback. As one employee put it in an internal communication: “We’re scared of political backlash if we enforce our policies without exemptions.” Facebook employees focused special attention on Breitbart, the documents show, criticizing Facebook for showcasing the site’s content in News Tab and for helping it to sell ads. They also alleged Facebook gave special treatment to Breitbart and other conservative publishers, helping them skirt penalties for circulating misinformation or hate speech.

Reuters - October 25, 2021

Twin peaks: Whether it's supply or demand, oil era heads for crunch time

Energy transition and peak demand predictions have spooked investors in oil, putting the prospect of peak production sooner than anticipated accompanied by wild price spikes. Key climate talks are set to begin at the end of this month in Glasgow, Scotland to tackle global warming under the 2015 Paris Agreement, with fossil fuel in policy-makers' crosshairs. But as it stands now, mobility curbs which hollowed out both spending on upstream oil projects and oil end use may already be set to permanently rein in the growth of both supply and demand. "On current trends, global oil supply is likely to peak even earlier than demand," the research department of bank Morgan Stanley said in a note this week. "The planet puts boundaries on the amount of carbon that can safely be emitted. Therefore, oil consumption needs to peak. However, this is such a well-telegraphed prospect that it has solicited its own counter-response already: low investment."

Still, with most oil producers and watchdogs putting the peak to the world's thirst for oil at least several years away, demand is already veering back toward pre-pandemic levels. The mismatch between demand for oil and other polluting fossil fuels roaring back to normal and output having lagged has helped contribute to an energy crunch in Europe and Asia, with crude prices soaring to multi-year highs. The medium-term erosion of oil demand supposes that renewable energies like electric cars and wind power gain pace, which the International Energy Agency says needs to pick up fast in order to head off shortages and sky-high prices. "The amount being spent on oil appears to be geared towards a world of stagnant or falling demand," the Paris-based agency said in its annual outlook this month. "A surge in spending on clean energy transitions provides the way forward, but this needs to happen quickly or global energy markets will face a bumpy road ahead."

State Stories

WFAA - October 24, 2021

United Nations to Texas: Curb reliance on oil and gas to remain prosperous in era of climate change

The leader of the United Nations says Texas must end its reliance on oil and gas production to remain prosperous in the era of climate change. At a UN summit next month, world leaders will be asked to rapidly cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030. A vast increase in the production of renewable energy will be required to reach those targets. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says Texas is well-positioned to lead the way in the production of renewables. “If Texas wants to remain prosperous in 2050 or 2070, Texas will have to diversify its economy and Texas will have to be less dependent on oil and gas,” Guterres said. “It has all the conditions to be – because of the weather in Texas – a leading state in renewable energy in the US,” he added.

Texas is the nation’s largest producer of crude oil and natural gas and the largest emitter of carbon dioxide. While it is deeply entrenched in a carbon-based economy, the state is also the largest producer of wind energy in the United States. “Texas is prosperous today because Texas is based on what was the main factor of what was wealth and power in the last century. Oil and gas. What we are seeing is, with things changing, the green economy will tend to be preponderant in the future,” Guterres said. A recent, landmark report from the UN concludes it’s "unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land", already changing the world in some ways that cannot be reversed. The intention of next month’s UN summit in Glasgow, Scotland is to limit future climate change to 1.5-degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels. Beyond that, the science shows, the danger of more extreme heat, drought, fire and hurricanes grows exponentially. At a press conference this week, Guterres struck a dire tone about the outcome of the upcoming summit. “I hope we are still on time to avoid a failure in Glasgow, but time is running short, and things are getting more difficult and that is why I’m very, very worried. I’m afraid things might go wrong,” he said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 25, 2021

Texas Department of Agriculture commissioner admitted to a Fort Worth-area hospital

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller announced that he was admitted to a Fort Worth-area hospital on Saturday after he experienced shortness of breath the night before. It was not clear why Miller, who is 66 and lives in Stephenville, was in the Fort Worth area. The commissioner wrote on Saturday in a Facebook message that he was undergoing tests.

“I am up and about and in good spirits. Debra and I are humbled by the prayers and good wishes we have received. I expect to be back to my normal schedule in just a few days,” Miller wrote, referring to his wife. Asked if Miller remained at a hospital Saturday night and for information about his diagnosis, an agriculture department spokesperson said that he did not have an update. Miller in December said that he has tested positive for COVID-19. The commissioner wrote then that he had survived rodeo injuries, broken bones, hip, double knee and shoulder surgery, West Nile virus and cancer.

Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2021

Texas posts strong job gains in September, with a surprising sector leading the way

Texas employers added 95,800 nonfarm jobs in September — the strongest month for hiring since March — prompting economists to predict a full pandemic job recovery for the state within months. The job additions also drove down the state’s unemployment rate to 5.6% from 5.9% a month earlier, according to data released Friday by the Texas Workforce Commission. Nationally, 27 states and the District of Columbia reported lower jobless rates in September. “We did expect this type of acceleration in September with the COVID wave subsiding,” said Pia Orrenius, vice president and senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. “We were growing more slowly earlier this year and now we are seeing the trend for the second half of the year will be faster growth, which Texas is used to.”

The Dallas Fed expects the state to reach pre-pandemic employment levels by January, Orrenius said. Driving the jobs growth in September were gains in some of the sectors hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Leisure and hospitality led the way with 31,900 jobs added in September, a welcome number as restaurants and hotels have struggled for months to win back employees who left or were laid off during the pandemic’s early days. For the past week, U.S. hotel occupancy reached 65%, its highest level since mid-August, but still down 10% from the comparable week in 2019, according to research firm STR. Orrenius said not to read too much into the hospitality figures because the numbers were down in August and it’s an industry that remains susceptible to COVID surges. There are still 94,900 fewer leisure and hospitality jobs in Texas than before the pandemic. Construction also was a bright spot, adding more than 16,000 jobs in September. That’s another sign people are returning to work, Orrenius said. In Dallas-Fort Worth, the Dallas-Plano-Irving metro area had an unemployment rate of 4.6% in September, unmoved from the previous month but significantly lower than the state rate, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. The Fort Worth-Arlington metro area had a 4.7% unemployment rate, slightly lower than its 4.8% rate for August.

Dallas Morning News - October 25, 2021

Dallas company’s recording of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes emerges as prosecution ‘jackpot’

The jury in the Theranos trial finally got to hear from Elizabeth Holmes herself — not in person, but a recording of her talking up her blood-testing startup in a 2013 conference call with investors. For the first time at the trial in San Jose, California, here was Holmes not being described by others, as she has been for six weeks. Instead, jurors heard the young entrepreneur in her own voice saying all the things an investor would want to hear -– touting her company’s extraordinary leaps of technological innovation, a rocketing stock price, and a closing window of investment opportunity that would naturally produce a sense of urgency to jump in. The recording was preserved by an executive of a Dallas-based Hall Group who had overseen an early $2 million investment in Theranos — and who testified Friday in a slow, folksy Texas accent that he approved investing another $5 million because Holmes was so persuasive on the call.

“There was a limited amount of time to react and make an investment decision,” Bryan Tolbert, a vice president of Hall Group, told jurors. Hall Group is developer Craig Hall’s real estate company. Tolbert’s recording is a “jackpot” for prosecutors and “some of the most damaging evidence a prosecutor can present,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney who teaches at the University of Michigan Law School. Jurors get to “hear the defendant’s own words,” she said, allowing them “to assess for themselves whether she had an intent to defraud the investors.” Tolbert was a small player compared with the family of former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Walmart heiress Alice Walton or News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch, who took a $125 million stake in Theranos. Seven years after his initial investment in 2006, Tolbert decided to tape record a conference call Holmes held to pitch investors for another funding round that would close by the end of 2013. Long stretches of the recording were played for jurors Friday.

Dallas Morning News - October 25, 2021

Texas Democrats left in the lurch after Congress fails to act on voting rights

Texas Democrats looked to Congress for help in derailing a GOP-driven elections bill they described as discriminatory. And they pleaded for protection against a redistricting plan that voting rights advocates contend unfairly manipulates communities of color. Nothing happened. The inaction in Congress on voting rights, particularly in the Senate, should be galling to the Texas Democrats who staged a highly publicized walkout that delayed a controversial elections bill. For weeks they camped out in Washington, D.C., to prevent Republican House Speaker Dade Phelan from having the quorum needed to approve the legislation. While in Washington, the Texans met with House and Senate leaders, as well as Vice President Kamala Harris. They pleaded with them to act on voting rights legislation. The Democrats didn’t get a meeting with President Joe Biden.

“Today the right to vote and the rule of law are under unrelenting assault from Republican governors, attorneys general, secretaries of state, state legislators,” Biden said last week. “They’re following my predecessor, the last president, into a deep, deep black hole and abyss.” As Biden pointed out, Republican-led legislatures across the country are tightening election laws to restrict absentee voting. They say they are making it harder to cheat in elections. The rash of legislation is in concert with former President Donald Trump’s false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him. The inability of Biden to meet with the Texas Democrats is indicative of where strengthening voting rights falls on the president’s list of priorities. Yes, he wants action, but there are other items on his agenda that are more important, like getting Congress to approve his projected Build Back Better plan. Meanwhile, Texas Republicans — as predicted — methodically pushed through their elections reform bill. And last week the Legislature’s third special session ended with Republican-drawn redistricting plans that protect GOP majorities in the state House, Senate and U.S. Congress. Voting rights activists are suing in federal court to have the new maps thrown out, claiming that they discriminate against minority voters.

MyRGV.com - October 24, 2021

Abbott swears in new Operation Lone Star chief in Mission

The man who’ll be leading Gov. Greg Abbott’s Operation Lone Star, which aims to combat smuggling at the Texas-Mexico border, was sworn in by the governor in Mission on Sunday. Texas Military Department Deputy Adjutant General Monie Ulis will now lead coordinated border missions for Operation Lone Star. The operation launched in March with the Texas Department of Public Safety to combat the smuggling of people and drugs into Texas. Tracy Norris, Ulis’ predecessor, was also at the ceremony.

“Monie Ulis is a courageous, devoted leader with 35 years of extensive experience in the Texas Army National Guard, making him a fantastic choice to serve as Deputy Adjutant General,” Abbott said in a news release. “Texas has taken unprecedented steps to secure the border through Operation Lone Star, and the Texas National Guard has played a pivotal role in confronting the crisis in the federal government’s absence. “Under the leadership of Deputy Adjutant General Ulis, we will continue to respond in full force to address this border crisis and keep Texans safe.” Abbott’s presence in the Rio Grande Valley on Sunday is one of several this year, with his visits ramping up as he ramps up his criticism of the Biden administration’s handling of immigration matters, making his trips to the region a common occurrence now.

MyRGV.com - October 24, 2021

How COVID-19 stalled and reignited Edinburg mayor’s voter fraud

Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina walked into the city’s municipal auditorium with a wide smile, generously high-fiving members of the audience as he made his way toward the stage to the tune of Flo Rida’s “My House.” Following close behind him was professional boxer Eric Molina and, next to him, another man carrying two boxing title belts above the mayor’s head. The message was clear — Richard Molina was a winner. And on the surface, at least, it rang true. Just five months earlier, in November 2017, Molina had defeated former Mayor Richard Garcia by more than 1,200 votes to become the city’s next mayor. It was a definitive victory over Garcia who had served more than a decade in office, and Molina was riding high. Things changed the following month after a handful of Molina’s supporters were arrested by the Texas Rangers on illegal voting charges. Accusations of fraud during the November 2017 election had already been swirling for months but in May, after the arrests, Molina took to social media to rebuff allegations of wrongdoing.

Less than a year later, Molina and his wife, Dalia Molina, were arrested as a result of the investigation that would later result in an indictment alleging 11 counts of voter fraud and a count of engaging in organized election fraud. Dalia would be indicted on two counts of illegal voting and one count of engaging in organized election fraud. Molina’s case was scheduled to go to trial on June 1, 2020, but that day has since come and again with little movement after the COVID-19 pandemic caused the suspension of jury trials in Hidalgo County along with the rest of the country. But as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to decrease and more people become vaccinated, jury empanelments are resuming this week followed by potential November jury trials. That development prompted the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office to ask for a jury trial date, which happened one week before early voting in Molina’s reelection bid, requiring the mayor to appear in court for his first hearing in 19 months. While the mayor was enjoying his first year in office, investigators with the Texas Attorney General’s Office and the Texas Rangers began secretly interviewing at least seven people swept into the alleged scheme. All of those people, who remain anonymous in the affidavits for Molina’s arrest, told similar stories.

Houston Chronicle - October 24, 2021

Buc-ee's sues Sugar Land man over 'confusingly similar' Buky's copycat stores in Texas

Texas mega-chain Buc-ee's is suing a Sugar Land man over claims that his “Buky's” gas station and convenience stores are “confusingly similar” to the brand’s famous logo. The trademark lawsuit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, alleges Buky's owner Saarim Damani, of Sugar Land, has unlawfully capitalized on the Texas chain’s success by using a similar name and lettering on his stores in El Campo and Rosenberg.

Buc-ee's was founded in 1982 in Lake Jackson and quickly grew into a cult-favorite Texas empire known for clean restrooms, roadside snacks and a quirky Beaver mascot. With more than 30 locations across the state, Buc-ee's has expanded outside of Texas with locations in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, with even more expansions planned in Tennessee and Mississippi. Damani is accused of trademark infringement, trademark dilution and unfair competition, among other claims. The suit claims that the similar logo potentially deceives customers into thinking Damani’s products or services “are in some manner connected with, sponsored by, affiliated with or related to Buc-ee’s.” Damani told the Chronicle he chose the name Buky's for his stores because it was a childhood nickname given to him by friends. He denies trying to replicate the Buc-ee's business model and declined to comment further.

Houston Chronicle - October 24, 2021

As delta wave fades, Texas Children's battles fatigue - and a troubling chain of infections

Isaiah Gonzalez grimaced as the nurse approached his hospital bed, his small hands bound with surgical tape to safeguard the tubes delivering a steady flow of antibodies to his bloodstream. He squeezed his pink-stained eyelids shut as the masked nurse put a thermometer in his armpit to check whether his skyhigh fever had fallen. He was thinking of monkeys. “I want to go to the zoo,” the 3-year-old said, reaching for his mother as his face twisted in distress. It has taken all Isaiah’s powers of imagination to escape the confines of his bed in the intensive care unit at Texas Children’s Hospital.

He is battling multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C, a dangerous but poorly understood illness that arose with the coronavirus pandemic last year. Fevered and weak, the Baytown resident was hospitalized earlier this month as the inflammation attacked his heart, kidneys and blood vessels. Hospitalizations like Isaiah’s were relatively rare throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. But as the delta tsunami recedes, it has left in its wake a troubling chain of infections among children too young to be vaccinated — and a deepening exhaustion among the health workers caring for them. The uncertainty about the coming months is adding to their fatigue, in a region where vaccination rates remain far below the levels required to stamp out community spread. “Our resilience is not unlimited,” said Dr. Lara Shekerdemian, chief of critical care at Texas Children’s and the physician overseeing Isaiah’s treatment. Shekerdemian and her staff are still reeling from the stress of the “surprise” summertime surge that sickened children at an alarming rate, inundating the five units devoted to intensive care at the nation’s largest pediatric hospital. Soft-spoken but formidable, with a gentle English accent, she leaned against a nurses’ station as she recalled recent months when patients waited in the hallways for an empty bed.

San Antonio Express-News - October 19, 2021

San Antonio's UT and A&M freshmen break records; Texas college enrollment trends vary

Some Texas colleges and universities are seeing increases in enrollment, particularly among underrepresented groups, despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic. Texas A&M University and University of Texas at Austin both welcomed more students than last year, according to preliminary reports. UT-Austin boasted its largest incoming class, with 9,060 first-time freshmen — a 7 percent increase from last year. Overall enrollment at UT also increased by 3 percent with 51,992 students — close to its all-time high of 52,261 in 2002, according to a news release. Texas A&M’s first-day enrollment of 72,982 students on the main campus in College Station was about 2.6 percent higher than last year. Nearly 11,500 of them were freshmen . The San Antonio campuses of both university systems also had record numbers of first-year students.

The University of Texas at San Antonio said it has 5,500 new freshmen, up from 5,300 a year ago, a 3.7 percent increase. Added to returning students still considered freshmen based on their course loads, the current total of 6,574 is similarly higher than the 6,349 total in the fall 2020 semester. UTSA also saw a 2.7 percent increase in enrollment in its master’s programs and a 6.7 percent increase in doctoral programs. Overall enrollment, however, was essentially the same as last year’s. Texas A&M-San Antonio is celebrating its largest freshman class of 1,058 this year, up 68 percent from the 629 freshmen who enrolled in the fall of 2020. The university’s total enrollment grew by a more modest 1.8 percent, to 6,891. A&M-San Antonio has always had a high percentage of first-generation students, and for undergraduates, it is even higher now, having increased almost 5 percentage points since last year, to 73.2 percent. But among graduate students, the proportion who are the first in their families to attend college decreased from 70.8 percent last year to 64.1 percent today.

San Antonio Express-News - October 22, 2021

Roger Barnes: Past time to abolish the death penalty in Texas

(Roger C. Barnes is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of the Incarnate Word.) It was a truly senseless murder. John Henry Ramirez and two female companions killed Pablo Castro, a father of nine, in Corpus Christi in 2004. Castro was taking out trash at a convenience store where he worked when he was attacked. Ramirez stabbed Castro 29 times. The robbery and murder netted Ramirez $1.25. Ramirez and the two women had been on a three-day drug binge. The two women were arrested the night of the murder, but Ramirez fled to Mexico and was not arrested until more than three years later. He was sentenced to death and has been on death row since 2009. Ramirez was to be executed by lethal injection last month. However, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice refused to allow his minister to lay hands on him and say prayers at the execution, prompting the U.S. Supreme Court to grant Ramirez a stay of execution. The Supreme Court will hear the case later this year.

The case raises a number of constitutional questions about the exercise of religion at the moment of execution. It is easy to get caught up in the horror of Castro’s killing and come to the conclusion that Ramirez, 37, should pay with his life. After all, as the lead prosecutor at Ramirez’s trial has said, “Pablo Castro didn’t get to have somebody praying over him as this guy stabbed him 29 times.” Two questions are paramount: Does Ramirez deserve to die for this crime? Do we deserve to do this to ourselves? My answer to both questions is no. We shouldn’t do state-sponsored killings. It’s a repugnant and medieval act and cheapens the value of human life. It dehumanizes everybody. I have been battling the death penalty since I walked onto Arkansas’ Death Row in 1969 as part of a documentary team interviewing men who faced death in the electric chair.

San Antonio Express-News - October 24, 2021

Greg Jefferson: The ambitious plan to remake San Antonio International Airport is big, bold - and needed

The 20-year-old plan to remake San Antonio International Airport is finally out, and it is sweeping. As expected. Frustration with San Antonio’s bland little airport has been mounting. Think back to three years ago when former Mayor Henry Cisneros called in an Express-News guest op-ed for effectively chucking San Antonio International and building bigger elsewhere. Boiled down, his message — shared by many other members of the city’s business-politico complex — was that both San Antonio and its aspirations were bigger than its airport. Earlier in 2018, Mayor Ron Nirenberg had appointed the 21-member Airport System Development Commission and picked cybersecurity executive John Dickson to chair it. The commission pretty quickly knocked down the idea of moving the airport to a roomier part of San Antonio.

Its members — working with the city aviation director, his staff and consultants — then set about blowing up the status quo within San Antonio International’s existing 2,600-acre footprint. The result: a multi-phase project that promises to be one of the city’s biggest, costliest capital projects ever. If City Council OKs the plan — members are expected to vote on it in December — the price could top $2 billion. Airport revenue bonds would pay for most of the work, with passenger fees, concessions, airline rents and a handful of other income streams paying off the debt. Federal funding also is expected to come into play. Aviation Department officials previewed the master plan at two public meetings this week — one at the Barshop Jewish Community Center on the North Side Tuesday, the other a virtual event Thursday. The redevelopment would start with fireworks: construction of a third terminal and a new parking garage. The plan’s timelines have the two structures, roadway work and smaller projects being completed by 2030 at a cost of between between $880 million and $950 million.

Associated Press - October 24, 2021

3 Texas schools joining American Athletic Conference

The American Athletic Conference is adding UAB, Texas-San Antonio, Rice, North Texas, Charlotte and Florida Atlantic to the league, replacing three schools that are leaving for the Big 12 Conference and growing to 14 teams. The AAC announced the additions Thursday, a move that it hopes will stabilize the conference in the short term and allow it to withstand future poaching of its members by wealthier leagues. The conference said when exactly the new members join is still to be determined. “This is a strategic expansion that accomplishes a number of goals as we take the conference into its second decade. We are adding excellent institutions that are established in major cities and have invested in competing at the highest level,” AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco said in a statement.

The American, formerly the Big East, has been a feeder conference from Power Five leagues for nearly two decades. Most recently, the Big 12 announced the additions of AAC powers Cincinnati, Houston and Central Florida to replace Southeastern Conference-bound Oklahoma and Texas. The Sooners and Longhorns have said they will join the SEC in 2025, but a quicker departure is possible. The Big 12 has said it is targeting 2023 for the arrival of its new members, which also includes BYU. The AAC’s move strips Conference USA of six schools, leaving that league both searching for new members and trying to fend off other poachers. The Sun Belt has said it is interested in expanding beyond its current 10 football members and some of C-USA’s remaining eight schools would be geographic fits. The American was born in 2013 from the downfall of Big East football, rebuilding around mostly C-USA schools. The AAC emerged as the strongest of the so-called Group of Five conferences when it comes to football during the College Football Playoff era.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 19, 2021

Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper is a former Oath Keeper. What does that mean?

Nueces County Sheriff J.C. Hooper acknowledged he was once a member of the Oath Keepers, though the longtime law enforcement officer suggested the organization has gotten “a bad rap in the media” as an extremist anti-government group. Multiple members of the Oath Keepers have been indicted and five have pleaded guilty for their role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, where supporters of former president Donald Trump wrought a violent assault to prevent lawmakers from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory. About 140 officers were injured, and one died as a result of his injuries. In interviews with the Caller-Times, Hooper said he has not been a member since its founding year in 2009 and distanced himself from the current organization.

Hooper told the Caller-Times that when he joined the group, “it was a beautiful concept of getting elected officials and law enforcement officials and military members to simply state that they take their oath to the Constitution and to the laws of this country seriously.” “We should all be ‘oath keepers’ in the purest sense of the word,” he said. “Any elected official at any level of government who doesn’t keep their oath, I think, is a bigger concern than some group that has now been labeled as domestic terrorists or whatever the media is choosing to label them as.” Hooper stopped short of denouncing the Oath Keepers, which federal authorities and civil rights groups have described as a far-right group that is built on conspiracy theories, pledges to defend the Constitution while rejecting the authority of the federal government and recognizes a “declaration of orders” that its members will not obey, including disarming Americans.

Austin American-Statesman - October 22, 2021

South by Southwest agrees to settle lawsuit over no-refund policy for canceled 2020 event

Some of the people who purchased credentials to attend the canceled South By Southwest festival in 2020 could be eligible to get part of their money back after SXSW LLC, the company behind the annual event, agreed to settle a class-action lawsuit over the event's no-refund policy. SXSW was called off a week before it was scheduled to start in March 2020 when Austin Mayor Steve Adler declared a public disaster amid mounting COVID-19 concerns. The festival, which annually attracts more than 100,000 people to Austin, was among the first major events canceled as the pandemic swept into Texas. After the event was shut down, SXSW LLC said it was in a "dire financial situation." The company laid off about a third of its 175 year-round employees.

In April 2020, SXSW LLC said that it lacked the financial resources to issue refunds to people who bought passes. Instead, the company offered a deferral package option, which would allow people to use their entry fees to attend the event in 2021, 2022 or 2023, and get 50% off the walk-up rate in any of those years. About 80% of purchasers accepted the offer and granted SXSW a release of claims, the lawsuit said. The list price of SXSW platinum badges, the event’s most expensive credential, was $1,600 in 2020, though discounts were available for early purchases. Under the settlement agreement, SXSW will issue a payment of $30 to any member who decided to defer their pass to a later year. Anyone who did not defer their credentials to a future year will receive a refund of 40% of the total amount they paid. Any person affected by the settlement can opt out by Dec 20, according to the settlement agreement. The settlement agreement indicates a “fairness hearing” is scheduled for Feb. 18, during which a judge will determine if the settlement should be approved as “fair, reasonable and adequate.”

Axios - October 25, 2021

University of Texas athletes banking on likenesses and images

University of Texas football players have capitalized on their names, images or likenesses at least 76 times since the summer, per disclosures made to the school's compliance department and obtained by Axios through an open records request. Why it matters: The disclosure stats are a window into how a new raft of laws allows student-athletes to finally profit on their own names and images. While individual contracts are largely insulated from public information requests under federal privacy laws, athletes' social media accounts and internet traffic reviewed by Axios show some of the ways players are capitalizing on their celebrity — and how boosters are happy to oblige. State of play: Backup quarterback Hudson Card's Twitter profile points potential business partners to his agent.

Card is being paid by Inside Texas to sit for a season-long YouTube series about Texas football. On Instagram, Longhorns running back Bijan Robinson has promoted Raising Cane's and Athletic Brewing, which "brews great-tasting craft non-alcoholic beer. Go grab you some on your way to DKR!" Of note: Student athletes cannot engage in any NIL activities related to alcohol or: Tobacco and e-cigarettes; Anabolic steroids; Casino gambling or sports wagering; Firearms that cannot be legally purchased; Sexually-oriented businesses. The Surly Horns, a booster and news site dedicated to the 'Horns, has set up a "Burnt Ends" subscription to pay the Longhorns' tight ends, with an overall fundraising goal of as much as $15,000 per tight end per year. UT has at least a half-dozen tight ends in its program. The subscription program aims to seed "recurring yearly endowments to attract and KEEP top TE talent in the program," per the Surly site.

County Stories

Houston Public Media - October 22, 2021

Fort Bend County extends redistricting process after activists push for more community input

Fort Bend County Judge KP George announced Friday that the county’s redistricting process would be extended after local activists demanded more time to provide community input. Initially, Commissioners Court was scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote over proposed precinct maps on Oct. 26, but the meeting has been pushed back to at least Nov. 2. The Texas Organizing Project, along with several community members, have pushed for more time to review already proposed maps and to submit their own for consideration. The deadline for that process was originally on Friday. “I have received numerous communications from the public about the timeline the Commissioners Court has adopted to receive feedback on proposed maps and to allow the public to submit maps for consideration,” George said in a statement. “The time is now for every resident to make their voice heard.”

Along with proposed maps submitted by the community, commissioners will consider three maps proposed from within the Court, which were publicly unveiled earlier this week. Brianna Brown, TOP co-executive director, said those maps don’t accurately reflect the diversity of Fort Bend County, and would split apart already established communities. “The policies that they enact over the next 10 years will have ripple effects for generations,” Brown said. “So what we’re saying is the process needs to be slowed down to get real and authentic feedback and input into the decision making process of how the lines are drawn.” According to some community members, like Nabila Mansoor with the group Texas Asian American Democrats, the extension will give residents more time to submit maps that are more in line with what the community wants. “It allows us to do the work we need to do to make sure that we can provide them with maps that we believe are a fair representation of the people that are in our county,” Mansoor said. Fort Bend County is also contending with redistricting at the state level, as proposed congressional maps threaten to spilt the county into three separate congressional districts.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 24, 2021

Austin Energy got few requests for home generator help. Since February's freeze, it's gotten hundreds more

Joe Rizzo, president of Austin-based generator company Capital Power Systems, said things haven't been the same since the weeklong freeze in February. Previously, the company — which helps business and residential customers — would install one generator a day, and now that number has increased to as many as five or six. And quite a few of those are for homeowners, which is also a change, he said. “We are backlogged 200 installations,” Rizzo said. “And the factories have not been able to keep up with the increase in demand across Texas and in the U.S. There has been a shortage in materials and so everything has delays, and it has slowed production down.”

As families struggled to stay warm in the record-breaking February freeze that left thousands across the state without power or water, many turned to using portable gas generators, gas grills or their vehicles to generate heat, leading to carbon monoxide poisonings and other hazardous situations. In the months that have followed, residents across Austin have been preparing for similar situations in the future with whole-home generators. Austin Energy has received hundreds of requests for information about or help installing whole-home generators in the months since the February freeze. In a typical year, the city utility receives two to three requests about generators, which act as a backup power source. This year, it has received more than 350.

KXAN - October 24, 2021

Shalom Austin: Anti-Semitic banner seen hanging over bridge on MoPac ‘upsetting and unsettling’

Shalom Austin is speaking out after a banner with an anti-Semitic message was hung over a bridge on MoPac Saturday. The nonprofit says the sign was on display at the Far West overpass in Central Austin. “We understand this is extremely upsetting and unsettling,” Shalom Austin said in a letter Saturday. “We are always vigilant in monitoring anti-Semitic groups and work closely with law enforcement to share information about their activities.” Pictures of the signs circulating on social media included photos of Austin police officers at the scene where the sign was. Austin police confirmed to KXAN that officers received a call about signs at that location and responded to the area.

“Let’s be clear. Hate and bigotry have absolutely no place in our community and certainly are not welcome in our police department,” said a Sunday statement from Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon. “Views shared by demonstrators during a protest action over the weekend were abhorrent and do not reflect our values.” Chief Chacon said an APD supervisor who went to the scene Saturday got a protestor to cooperate with requests to make sure the area was safe. “After enduring a barrage of hate speech and personal insults being hurled at them, officers who responded to the scene calmly and professionally carried out their duty to keep drivers on MoPac, bystanders and protesters safe while ensuring that the incident did not escalate and no laws were being broken,” continued his statement. At the end of the conversation between APD and the protesters, Chief Chacon said the supervisor “declined a request for a handshake and instead opted for a fist-bump citing COVID-19 safety protocols.” “A screen grab from the more than two-hour incident does not tell the whole story,” said Chacon. “I ask that our community not buy into the hate and images that have been taken out of context on social media.”

San Antonio Express-News - October 24, 2021

Why does the San Antonio Symphony keep having financial crises?

Allyson Dawkins has played viola with the San Antonio Symphony for 40 years, so she is intimately familiar with its recurring financial problems. Dawkins, the orchestra’s principal violist, was there when the symphony last went on strike in 1985 over a wage dispute. She was there in 1992, when the season was shortened because of a debt of $4.7 million. She was there during the 2003 bankruptcy. And she’s watched a long line of executive and music directors come and go. Now she’s on the picket line again. Facing job and wage cuts and a shortened season, the musicians have been on strike for three weeks, claiming that their board, the Symphony Society, has not acted in good faith as they renegotiate a new contract for the 2021-22 season.

Dawkins said she remembers carrying bilingual signs during the strike of 1985 and how proud she was to walk alongside members of other unions, including uniformed Continental Airlines pilots, who supported the effort. It feels different this time. “I remember how fragile I felt at that time, and I don’t feel fragile now because I’ve got the hide of a rhinoceros from living through my career. But it’s very unnerving to have what you love threatened,” Dawkins said. “And that is precisely why the musicians are unanimous and are not going to participate in what would be the undoing of the San Antonio Symphony.” After the musicians rejected the Symphony Society’s final offer, it imposed a contract last month that slashed the musicians’ base pay from $35,774 to $24,000. It also reduced the orchestra from 72 to 42 musicians, with an additional 26 to be contracted part time, and it trimmed the 2021-22 season from 31 weeks to 24 weeks. The musicians’ pay even before the latest cut is well below the national average for symphony musicians, which is $47,706, according to job site ZipRecruiter.

Dallas Morning News - October 25, 2021

More than half of Dallas’ city employees have gotten COVID-19 vaccines

More than half of Dallas’ city employees have reported being vaccinated against COVID-19 since an incentive was announced in late August giving workers extra vacation days if they got the shot. Over 7,500 workers have provided proof of their vaccination status as of Oct. 1, said Kim Bizor Tolbert, the city manager’s chief of staff. The city has more than 12,900 employees, she said Friday, and officials believe reported vaccination numbers will exceed 70% by the time the incentive ends after Oct. 31. “Within the first 30 days, we had over 6,200,” Bizor Tolbert said Friday during a virtual meeting with The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board. “We’re tracking right now close to 8,000.”

Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order Aug. 25 banning city and other government-imposed COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He issued another one earlier this month barring any entity from enforcing vaccine mandates for workers. The day after Abbott’s August order, Dallas announced that employees could earn various incentives for getting vaccinated: 40 extra vacation hours if they’ve been fully vaccinated before Sept. 1; a day of additional paid vacation leave if vaccinated before Oct. 1; and eight extra vacation hours if vaccinated before Nov. 1. The city also announced that unvaccinated employees who contract COVID-19 starting next month will no longer receive paid leave. Sick uniformed employees, such as police and firefighters, will still get paid time off regardless of their vaccination status. But the maximum amount of leave they can claim due to the virus will be cut to 80 hours from 112.

National Stories

CNN - October 22, 2021

Soaring meat prices a tough sell for barbecue pitmasters

For about twenty minutes, Alex Barbosa had his full menu on display -- written in permanent marker on peach-colored butcher paper -- before he had to start taking parts of it down. "Sorry, ma'am. We're already out of the burnt ends," Barbosa, owner of the mobile barbecue trailer Barbosa's Barbeque, tells the patron standing out front of his trailer-turned-small business. "They were really popular today and we had a big order." Selling out of meat is nothing new for the native-Texan who moved to Denver in 2019 from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the nineteen months he's served smoked meats around town, Barbosa has quickly drawn rave reviews from those craving craft barbecue. They routinely line up to devour his signature beef brisket, homemade sausages, and moist smoked turkey breast that he may, or may not, dip in a little melted butter before serving. "Poultry and butter go great together," Barbosa quips.

Moments of levity have been rarer for Barbosa and other pitmasters across the country this year. They've seen the cost of their menu staples: beef, pork and poultry steadily increase since the pandemic's start last year. And while most of the food industry has experienced the pain, pitmasters feel the price increases are the most searing for barbecue restaurant owners. "[Meat] is our main ingredient," says Rodney Scott, owner of Rodney Scott's Whole Hog BBQ in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. "All these protein prices have gone up and it's a challenge for all of us in this business." The cost of meats increased 12.6% between September 2020 and September 2021, according to unadjusted data from the Consumer Price Index. The cost of pork rose 12.7% in the same period. Poultry prices rose 6.1%, while overall beef prices climbed the most at 17.6%. Beef roasts, the category brisket falls in, increased 20.8% the past 12 months. "When we started the business in Denver [in March 2020], USDA prime brisket we were getting it for about $3.19 to $3.29 a pound," explains Barbosa. "Now we're looking at about $5.59 a pound." Price increases and decreased meat availability are directly linked to the supply chain's processing level. According to the North American Meat Institute, a trade association representing meat processors, companies are suffering from a common problem during the pandemic: lack of workers.

ProPublica - October 23, 2021

Oath Keepers in the state house: How a militia movement took root in the Republican mainstream

North Carolina state representative Mike Clampitt swore an oath to uphold the Constitution after his election in 2016 and again in 2020. But there’s another pledge that Clampitt said he’s upholding: to the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militant organization. Dozens of Oath Keepers have been arrested in connection to the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, some of them looking like a paramilitary group, wearing camo helmets and flak vests. But a list of more than 35,000 members of the Oath Keepers — obtained by an anonymous hacker and shared with ProPublica by the whistleblower group Distributed Denial of Secrets — underscores how the organization is evolving into a force within the Republican Party. ProPublica identified Clampitt and 47 more state and local government officials on the list, all Republicans: 10 sitting state lawmakers; two former state representatives; one current state assembly candidate; a state legislative aide; a city council assistant; county commissioners in Indiana, Arizona and North Carolina; two town aldermen; sheriffs or constables in Montana, Texas and Kentucky; state investigators in Texas and Louisiana; and a New Jersey town’s public works director.

ProPublica’s analysis also found more than 400 people who signed up for membership or newsletters using government, military or political campaign email addresses, including candidates for Congress and sheriff, a retired assistant school superintendent in Alabama, and an award-winning elementary school teacher in California. Three of the state lawmakers on the list had already been publicly identified with the Oath Keepers. Other outlets have also scoured the list, finding police officers and military veterans. People with law enforcement and military backgrounds — like Clampitt, a retired fire captain in Charlotte, North Carolina — have been the focus of the Oath Keepers’ recruiting efforts since the group started in 2009. According to researchers who monitor the group’s activities, Oath Keepers pledge to resist if the federal government imposes martial law, invades a state or takes people’s guns, ideas that show up in a dark swirl of right-wing conspiracy theories. The group is loosely organized and its leaders do not centrally issue commands. The organization’s roster has ballooned in recent years, from less than 10,000 members at the start of 2011 to more than 35,000 by 2020, membership records show.

Washington Post - October 24, 2021

Ahead of Jan. 6, Willard hotel in downtown D.C. was a Trump team ‘command center’ for effort to deny Biden the presidency

They called it the “command center,” a set of rooms and suites in the posh Willard hotel a block from the White House where some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal lieutenants were working day and night with one goal in mind: overturning the results of the 2020 election. The Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and the ensuing attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob would draw the world’s attention to the quest to physically block Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s victory. But the activities at the Willard that week add to an emerging picture of a less visible effort, mapped out in memos by a conservative pro-Trump legal scholar and pursued by a team of presidential advisers and lawyers seeking to pull off what they claim was a legal strategy to reinstate Trump for a second term.

They were led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon was an occasional presence as the effort’s senior political adviser. Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik was there as an investigator. Also present was John Eastman, the scholar, who outlined scenarios for denying Biden the presidency in an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4 with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. They sought to make the case to Pence and ramp up pressure on him to take actions on Jan. 6 that Eastman suggested were within his powers, three people familiar with the operation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Their activities included finding and publicizing alleged evidence of fraud, urging members of state legislatures to challenge Biden’s victory and calling on the Trump-supporting public to press Republican officials in key states. The effort underscores the extent to which Trump and a handful of true believers were working until the last possible moment to subvert the will of the voters, seeking to pressure Pence to delay or even block certification of the election, leveraging any possible constitutional loophole to test the boundaries of American democracy.

Washington Post - October 25, 2021

A ‘shoot to incapacitate’ policy puts Georgia police chief and town in the spotlight

A fundamental tenet of police training in the United States is that officers who fire their weapons in response to a deadly threat should always aim for "center mass," generally the chest. That's the biggest target and so the easiest to hit. But a bullet that finds its mark there is likely to kill. The police chief in this picturesque Deep South town says there’s a better approach. Louis Dekmar, who has run the LaGrange Police Department for 26 years, is training his officers to shoot for the legs, pelvis or abdomen in situations where they think it could stop a deadly threat without killing the source of that threat. Doing so, he believes, could make a difference in the more than 200 fatal police shootings nationwide every year that involve individuals armed with something other than a gun. “Every time we avoid taking a life,” Dekmar says, “we maintain trust.” The chief’s “Shoot to Incapacitate” program has drawn interest from academics who say it merits further study. In the national law enforcement community, however, it has elicited harsh, widespread criticism.

Other police leaders in Georgia found the idea so controversial that they made it a focus of their annual conference in August, flying in nine experts to discuss the pros and cons. One group’s executive director will soon release a position paper advising departments throughout the state not to follow Dekmar’s lead. While such a policy might be supported by the public, explained John B. Edwards of the Peace Officers Association of Georgia, most agencies would find it impossible to implement. “It’s opened Pandora’s box,” he said. This isn’t the first time Dekmar has championed the unorthodox in LaGrange. In the late 1990s, he instituted mandatory audio recordings of officer-citizen interactions. In 2004, he began sending his entire force to crisis intervention training so that everyone would know how to de-escalate encounters with people affected by mental illness. In 2009, he purchased body cameras for his officers, and in 2017 he made national headlines for apologizing for his agency’s role in a 1940 lynching — by all accounts, the first time a Southern police chief had done so. Town leaders have consistently invested in the department during his tenure. “We’re very proud of the work Chief Dekmar has done here,” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said early this month. “He’s a professional with high standards, and we fully support his effort to explore new options.”

Border Report - October 24, 2021

Idea to remove part of border barrier for binational park gaining momentum

Jim Brown is sharing his concept that would remove portions of the border barrier between San Diego and Tijuana while creating a park where people from both sides of the border could gather, meet and congregate year-round. This binational park would expand on Friendship Park, which already exists but has been closed since the pandemic began.

“Historic Friendship Park is a very important meeting place between our two countries,” said Brown. “People have been coming here for many decades, people travel thousands of miles if they don’t have the ability to cross the border. … And you would do it, too, if you were a grandfather or grandmother and this was the only way to meet your grandchild for the first time, or if this was the last time you were going to see your grandmother or grandfather, and that’s what people do.” Brown’s plan was selected by a group called Friends of Friendship Park, which organized an event in August to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Border Field State Park, where Friendship Park is located. “We are now proposing a larger vision. Right now, you can only touch fingertips, but we believe it’s not enough,” said Brown. “We propose 80 acres, 40 in the United States and 40 in Playas de Tijuana, and that it’d be a 24-hour city where people could meet and talk.”

HuffPost - October 24, 2021

‘New Democrats’ break with their anti-welfare past and back Biden’s agenda

When a small group of Democrats held up a procedural vote on President Joe Biden’s policy agenda in August, news stories described it as a rebellion by the moderates. Their plan was to force a House vote on a bipartisan infrastructure bill before the House considered more ambitious legislation addressing climate change and the nation’s substandard treatment of families. The gambit failed badly, and the moderates got nothing. But they weren’t the moderates. They were an ad hoc gang of fewer than a dozen relatively conservative Democrats with no plan for success. Meanwhile, there is an actual, organized group of 95 moderate House lawmakers known as the New Democrat Coalition. As their website says, they’re “pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible,” with an aversion to partisanship. And they have quietly backed the president’s plans while offering only mild strategy disagreements with progressives.

Their chairwoman, Rep. Suzan DelBene (Wash.), is a former Microsoft executive first elected to Congress in 2012. She exudes professionalism and eschews the kind of ultimatums that have plagued the legislative process lately. “New Dems have always been a group that’s been forward-looking and focused on getting things done. We know that we don’t help anybody if we don’t get policy passed,” DelBene said in an interview at the Capitol. “We feel very responsible that we need to show governance can work and be part of that process.” New Democrats have been at the center of Democratic politics since the 1990s. Bill Clinton called himself a New Democrat, and so did Barack Obama. But in terms of what policies they support, the New Dems of today, with DelBene helming their House coalition, are different. You could say there’s actually something “new” about them. It’s all about giving people money. DelBene is one of the most prominent House supporters of the child allowance Democrats created this year by taking the child tax credit and turning it into a monthly advance refund. Payments of as much as $300 per child started in July for all households earning less than $150,000, which is the vast majority. The policy represents a radical break from the past, and has already slashed child poverty.

Associated Press - October 25, 2021

Biden hosts budget talks with Schumer, Manchin in Delaware

President Joe Biden was hosting two pivotal senators for meetings in Delaware on Sunday in hopes of resolving lingering disputes over Democrats' long-stalled effort to craft an expansive social and environment measure. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., were scheduled to attend the session, the White House said. Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., two of their party's most moderate members, have insisted on reducing the size of the package and have pressed for other changes.

Democrats initially planned that the measure would contain $3.5 trillion worth of spending and tax initiatives over 10 years. But demands by moderates led by Manchin and Sinema to contain costs mean its final price tag could well be less than $2 trillion. Disputes remain over whether some priorities must be cut or excluded. These include plans to expand Medicare coverage, child care assistance and helping lower-income college students. Manchin, whose state has a major coal industry, has opposed proposals to penalize utilities that do not switch quickly to clean energy. The White House and congressional leaders have tried to push monthslong negotiations toward a conclusion by the end of October. Democrats' aim is to produce an outline by then that would spell out the overall size of the measure and describe policy goals that leaders as well as progressives and moderates would endorse. The wide-ranging measure carries many of Biden's top domestic priorities. Party leaders want to end internal battles, avert the risk that the effort could fail and focus voters' attention on the plan's popular programs for helping families with child care, health costs and other issues.

October 23, 2021

Lead Stories

The Hill - October 24, 2021

Pelosi on spending bill: 'I think we are pretty much there now'

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) indicated on Sunday that Democrats would reach an agreement this week on President Biden's social spending bill. "We have 90 percent of the bill agreed to and written. We just have some of the last decisions to be made," Pelosi said on CNN's "State of the Union." "I think we are pretty much there now," Pelosi said when asked if an agreement would be reached before the president leaves for Europe on Friday. Pelosi also said that the scaled-back plan is still set for an Oct. 31 vote, when federal highway funding expires.

"There was no deadline that was missed because of the progressives. The deadline was missed because they changed from $3.5 [trillion] to one half of that," Pelosi added. "Because the bill is not written yet, we hope it will be written today and introduced tomorrow, only then can the joint tax committee evaluate what it brings in," Pelosi noted of plans to fund the new plan. When asked by CNN's Jake Tapper if she was frustrated by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema's (D-Ariz.) opposition to the initial $3.5 trillion package, Pelosi said she was "respectful of everybody's point of view." During a CNN town hall last Thursday, Biden indicated some concern that Sinema's opposition to tax increases for wealthy individuals and corporations could cause problems in terms of funding the final package. But on Sunday, Pelosi was less concerned.

Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2021

Supreme Court sets snap Nov. 1 hearing on Texas’ 6-week abortion ban but refuses to halt enforcement

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday again refused to halt enforcement of Texas’ new ban on abortions after six weeks, but put the case on a fast track, setting oral arguments for Nov. 1. Abortions in Texas have been cut to a trickle since the high court allowed the law, known as Senate Bill 8, to take effect Sept. 1. The federal Justice Department had asked the court to freeze enforcement as challenges work through lower courts. Attorney General Merrick Garland denounced SB 8 as a clear violation of five decades of Supreme Court rulings that recognize the right to abortion before a fetus is viable outside the womb — roughly 22 to 24 weeks. The Biden administration views SB 8 as an intolerable, if clever, attempt to thwart judicial review, a view shared by many legal scholars.

Instead of having the state government enforce a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which would clearly violate rights the Supreme Court has recognized since 1973, the new Texas law gives private citizens the right to sue doctors or anyone else who helps a woman get such an abortion, including a friend or even an unwitting taxi driver. Successful plaintiffs are promised awards of at least $10,000. Only a handful of lawsuits have been filed. But clinics have stopped providing most abortions for fear of the potentially ruinous costs. The Supreme Court has struck down six-week abortion bans before. Justices likely were intrigued to take up this case, given that it hinges on a novel mechanism to deter abortions the state could not directly outlaw. Still, abortion providers and advocates for women’s rights were disappointed that the law remains in place. “The Supreme Court has promised for nearly 50 years that abortion is protected by our Constitution, yet today they are allowing extremists to continue depriving Texans of our rights,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, president & CEO of Whole Woman’s Health and Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, an abortion provider that has challenged SB 8. “This dystopian state that Texas lawmakers have imposed on us, with neighbors tattling on neighbors for helping each other out, is not what most Texans would want for their families, friends, and neighbors.”

San Antonio Express-News - October 23, 2021

'Don't Texas Virginia': Texas politics spill into tight Virginia governor race with push from Harris

There aren’t any high-profile elections in Texas this year, but the state’s politics — specifically its new abortion ban — are weighing on what is perhaps the most closely watched race in the nation. The Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia, Terry McAuliffe, and his allies have started warning that Virginia may soon look like GOP-run Texas if the Trump-backed Republican, Glenn Youngkin, wins next month. That includes Vice President Kamala Harris, who said at a campaign stop for McAuliffe on Thursday night that abortion is one of the biggest issues in the race, pointing to Texas’ new ban, the strictest in the nation.

“Don’t Texas Virginia,” Harris said. “We don’t even have to imagine. We have seen, we have empirical evidence right before us, guys, of a governor in the state of Texas who is telling women what and who they can be based on some arbitrary decision that includes empowering bounty hunters to intimidate, to instill fear in women. This is the power of a governor. Let’s be clear about that.” Abbott signed the bill, which passed the Republican-dominated Legislature earlier this year, in May, declaring it “ensures that the life of every unborn child who has a heartbeat will be saved from the ravages of abortion.” It took effect Sept. 1 and encourages private lawsuits against people who perform abortions or help women obtain them, guaranteeing successful plaintiffs at least $10,000. The U.S. Supreme Court did not intervene to stop the law from taking effect, leading to the shutdown of abortion clinics in the state. Most have remained closed even after a federal judge ordered its enforcement halted pending a lawsuit challenge. With the midterms still a year away, the surprisingly close race between McAuliffe, who previously served as governor from 2014 to 2018, and Youngkin, a former private equity executive, is seen as the first real test of the political landscape since President Joe Biden took office. Virginia hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 2010, but recent polls indicate the race is essentially a dead heat as Biden’s approval rating has sunk. Republicans believe a victory there would be a sign of momentum heading into the midterms, when they aim to retake control of Congress.

KXAN - October 24, 2021

State of Texas: ‘Fasten your seat belt’ – Redistricting battle moves from the Capitol to the courtroom

The lines have been drawn. Texas lawmakers approved the new voting maps for congressional and statewide elections. But the battle over redistricting is not done yet. “For those of you paying attention to the redistricting process, fasten your seat belt,” State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) said. “This ride is going to get fast and furious.” Even before Texas lawmakers made the final vote over the congressional voting lines, groups representing Hispanic and Latino voters filed a federal lawsuit challenging the maps. The lawsuit claims the redistricting plan discriminates against Latino voters. “Only in Texas can you grow your state, by 95% of all your growth coming from a minority, but yet minorities don’t benefit from the increased political representation in the halls of Congress,” Martinez Fischer said.

The lawsuit is expected to be the first of several against the plan, claiming the redistricting maps discriminate against voters of color. But despite the legal challenges, the lines approved by the legislature are already influencing next year’s primary field. This summer, State Rep. Michelle Beckley announced plans to run for Congress in District 24 in the Dallas area. But the final map turned that district into a Republican stronghold. Beckley, a Democrat, cited “extreme gerrymandering” as a reason for abandoning her campaign. In central Texas, long time Democratic congressman Lloyd Doggett announced he would move to run in the newly-formed District 37. He could face former congressional candidate Julie Oliver, who announced she formed an exploratory committee, in the Democratic primary. District 37 is one of two added in Texas after the 2020 Census. The district boundaries cover most of west and central Austin. Doggett’s decision opens up the race for the District 35 seat. That district connects east Austin to San Antonio, following a narrow path along Interstate 35 between the two cities.

State Stories

Texas Public Radio - October 22, 2021

Without access to abortions, Texans are trying to find the right birth control. It isn't easy.

Julia Weis chose pain over pills. The San Antonio resident uses an intrauterine device (IUD) — a T-shaped piece of plastic, inserted through the vagina and cervix into the uterus, where it releases hormones to block sperm from fertilizing eggs. “The insertion of the IUD felt like someone was taking a knife and stabbing it up inside of me,” she said. “I think it was probably one of the most painful things I've experienced in my life, and I've broken bones.” “But it's something that I would do again, and I would do it every year if I needed to.” She began taking birth control pills before high school to address period-induced cramps, and got her IUD in 2020 — the year before Texas’ Republican-controlled state government passed a widely unpopular law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. In the meantime, Texans who can get pregnant — but don’t want to — are weighing options, often without a comprehensive reproductive health education, supportive family members, health insurance or understanding doctors.

The first health care provider Weis spoke to about the IUD asked a series of extraneous questions. “The doctor, who was an old man, was like, ‘Well, are you sure? You want to have babies soon, right? Are you married? You and your husband — you want to have babies?’” she recalled. “And I was like, ‘No!’ Like, ‘That's just not — that's not any of your business.’” Weis knew exactly what she wanted. “It was kind of this idea of, well, you never really know,” she said. “What if birth control is next — what if I'm not gonna be able to have access to this? I might as well get the one that lasts as long as possible.” It’s not always easy to find a doctor who supports a patient’s choice of contraceptive — and that’s for people who can even access affordable health care. Texas has the highest number and highest percentage of people without health insurance of all states, and state lawmakers again declined to expand Medicaid during the most recent legislative session. Kari White is an associate professor in the School of Social Work and Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, where she leads the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. “There is a great need in the state for funding and programs that enable people — particularly those who are living on low incomes — to be able to obtain the contraceptive methods that they would like to use,” she said.

Texas Lawbook - October 24, 2021

The latest shortage in Texas: lawyers

The market for corporate lawyers in Texas has never been this hot or intense - not back in the technology boom of the late 1990s or even during the shale explosion of the past decade. Texas businesses have so much legal work for lawyers that law firms are stretched thin and fear their attorneys are being overworked and in danger of burnout. Leaders at more than two-dozen corporate law firms interviewed say they need to hire more attorneys — in some cases, a couple dozen — to handle the mergers, acquisitions, capital markets, real estate deals and complex commercial disputes facing their clients, but that they face a major roadblock. There just aren’t enough lawyers in Texas. Not enough qualified and experienced business attorneys, anyway. “For the past several months, nearly all our clients have approached us with multiple needs within multiple practice areas,” said Amanda Pickering, a legal recruiter at Amicus Search Group. “There are not enough lawyers to fill the open spots. The talent pool is not growing fast enough.”

That has created a seller’s market for corporate lawyers. Nearly all Texas law firms have increased associate salaries to the point that first-year lawyers straight out of law school and who have no idea even where the courthouse is now make a base salary of $205,000. To hold onto experienced lawyers, some firms are offering mid-year bonuses of up to $75,000 to associates, on top on end of the year bonuses that can reach $125,000. In 2021, associates at the larger corporate law firms who have eight years of experience — year before they are usually come up for - will be taking home about $500,000 this year. But the war for talent doesn’t end there. Some richer law firms have offered six-digit signing bonuses - some as high as $500,000 — to poach the most experienced associates. “Everybody is scrambling to find associates to do the work that is coming in,” said Robert Croyle, who is managing partner of the Houston office of legal executive search firm Major, Lindsey & Africa. “The law firms are incredibly busy, and they don’t have the lawyers to do the work.” As with all shortages, the cause is a matter of supply not keeping up with demand. Business for corporate law firms has surged with a booming economy, fueled by low-interest rates. cheap money and trillions of dollars in federal spending. Mergers and acquisitions involving Texas businesses are up 31 percent so far 2021 over the past year and deal making in the third quarter of 2021 reached its highest numbers since 2014.

San Antonio Express-News - October 23, 2021

San Antonio schools, bolstered by federal dollars, still struggle to meet students' mental health needs

Thousands of schoolchildren in San Antonio have found it tough to readjust to in-person learning amid the added stress of changes at home forced by the coronavirus pandemic. Educators have tried to respond with additional mental and emotional health resources for students, staff and families, especially those who have experienced loss and displacement. They now have better funding to help promote social and emotional well-being — and a requirement to define how to provide it — because part of the federal aid called Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, or ESSER, must be used for that purpose. In the weeks since classes began, teachers have been sending more students to social workers, therapists and school counselors than in any other year. Inside classrooms, some of the social building blocks that students acquire year by year are missing.

“Kids are trying to readjust themselves to a social environment,” said Anthony Jarret, the chief instructional officer at North East Independent School District, which includes Lanford’s school. “The belonging, the networking, the connecting with people has been a big adjustment for students as they walk into the building right now.” The second-grader who had sought out Lanford’s help when he was having an issue at home also is working on adapting back to in-person learning. “I don’t like that we have to work all day,” the second-grader said. “I didn’t like being on the computer all day, either.” After learning via Zoom for more than a year, he struggles to stay focused, Lanford said. “If (playing) is what they choose to do, that is what we do,” Lanford said. “This time is for whatever they need when they come here. It’s a break in their schedule, and it also helps them work on whatever issues they have that are distressing them and keeping them from doing their job (as a student).”

The Advocate - October 23, 2021

Texas lawmaker asks AG if same-sex marriage is still illegal in the state

Texas state Rep. James White, a Republican from District 19 in southeast Texas, has reportedly written to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wanting clarification on the historic U.S. Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges — the case that's ruling made marriage equality the law in the U.S. The letter, shared by several reporters and organizations on Twitter, showed the date it was sent to be October 19. In a tweet, the Lincoln Project wrote, “Marriage equality is the law of the land — except in Texas, argues the state GOP. Legislative leaders in TX issued an opinion stating legalized gay marriage shouldn’t be permitted in the Lone Star State because they feel state law trumps the SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v Hodges.”

The posted letter’s subject read, “Whether Obergefell v. Hodges … requires private citizens to recognize homosexual marriages when the law of Texas continues to define marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman.” White wrote in his letter that Texas's state laws continues to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. He also referred to parts of the state’s legislation that forbid the recognition of anything like marriages, such as civil unions. “The State of Texas has not amended or repealed its marriage laws in response to Obergefell v. Hodges … . And the Supreme Court has no power to amend formally or revoke a state statute or constitutional provision — even after opining that the state law violates the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution,” White wrote. Dallas Morning News reporter Lauren McGaughy wrote in a Twitter thread that Texas lawmakers have also never repealed a state statute that makes “homosexual conduct” a misdemeanor.

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2021

Texas CBD, vape shops take legal action after delta-8 THC deemed illegal by state

Texas CBD and vape shops are searching for answers, and some have filed temporary restraining orders against the state after they say health officials abruptly announced last week that they had added delta-8 THC products to their list of Schedule I controlled substances. Delta-8 is a less-potent alternative to the delta-9 product known as marijuana, though it produces similar effects. Official state documents show that for months, the Department of State Health Services has considered the product illegal. But Ashley Flood, who owns a CBD American Shaman franchise location in Allen, and other shop owners and consumers say they were never informed of the decision that Commissioner John Hellerstedt announced more than a year ago or the move to update the state’s website.

“We didn’t find out from the state, we didn’t find out from law enforcement, we didn’t find out via letter, email — nothing. We found out from one of our suppliers,” she said after finding out about the change to the DSHS website. Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana, said that despite the confusion, she will consider delta-8 products illegal because that’s the opinion of the state health officials who were given the authority to maintain the substance schedule. “It’s clear people didn’t know about this happening,” she said. “It goes to show that when DSHS wants to inform the public, they know how to do it. They also evidently know how to be sneaky when they want to.” Flood said law enforcement hasn’t come knocking at the doors of her shop — at least not to tell her to stop selling delta-8. “We’ve talked to several customers who are in law enforcement — apparently, we’re nowhere on the agenda,” she said. “They were just as unaware as everybody else.”

Dallas Morning News - October 23, 2021

Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene to speak at Frisco Conservatives gala

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., will be the keynote speaker for the Frisco Conservatives’ annual winter gala on Dec. 11. Greene will also receive the organization’s Conservative of the Year award, the group announced. The gala starts at 7 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency, 2615 Preston Rd. Event details describe the Georgia Republican as having “changed Congress by forcing members to actually go on record and vote.”

“Congresswoman Greene puts the people over the politicians every day in Congress by fighting for our America First values,” the description continues. “That’s why she’s the biggest threat to the Democrats’ Communist agenda.” But Greene has drawn criticism for her views. Earlier this year, Democrats stripped her of her committee assignments because of her violent, conspiracy-laden rhetoric, as well as racist and anti-Semitic views, The News reported in February. Danny Griego, a Texas-based country singer/songwriter is the scheduled entertainment.

Dallas Morning News - October 24, 2021

Nancy Kasten: Faith groups should not get to opt out of the law

(Rabbi Nancy Kasten is chief relationship officer with Faith Commons.) Heads up, Texans. There is an election on Nov. 2, and Proposition 3 will put worshippers in harm’s way. In April, 45 ultra-Orthodox men and boys were trampled to death at a religious festival in Israel. This tragedy happened in a particular community of citizens of Israel who ignore or break secular law when they feel that God or their rabbis demand it. In this case over 100,000 believers gathered at a burial site even though police and health officials had requested that the organizers limit the crowd and employ other safety precautions. This is not the first or only example of the risks that some believers will take to practice their religion in a particular way. And to be sure, no one will ever be able to eliminate risk for those who are willing to break the law.

But in our country, founded on the separation of church and state, the law should not be changed to codify the beliefs or practices of those who put religious law above the law of the land. Proposition 3 would add this new section to Article 1 of the Texas Constitution: “This state or a political subdivision of this state may not enact, adopt, or issue a statute, order, proclamation, decision or rule that prohibits or limits religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and places of worship, in this state by a religious organization established to support and serve the propagation of a sincerely held religious belief.” If passed, Proposition 3 would exempt religious institutions from occupancy limits, emergency exit requirements, evacuation orders, building codes, and more. Religious institutions are already protected from closure during a state of emergency thanks to two bills that were signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in the 2021 legislative session. House Bill 525 designates religious organizations as essential businesses so they can continue to operate during a declared state of emergency, and HB 1239 bars government entities from ordering the closure of houses of worship. A broad coalition of faith organizations actually oppose these types of bills because of the threat they can pose to the health and well-being of worshippers and those who are morally obligated to come to their rescue when harm or tragedy results. Proposition 3 goes a step further, making it even harder for the government to protect faithful Texans from harm.

Houston Chronicle - October 24, 2021

The renewed environmental justice movement is raking in millions for Texas Southern University

Forty years ago, there was no clear blueprint for environmental justice. While digging into the injustices that wreaked havoc on Houston’s communities of color, Texas Southern University scholar Robert Bullard became the pioneer. Now, widely regarded as “the father of environmental justice,” Bullard, 74, has seen the movement evolve into a force to be reckoned with. “Most Americans do not live in a flood plain. Most Americans don’t live where a highway might have torn through and disrupted their lives. Most American kids don’t go to a school across from a chemical plant, but there are many communities where that is a reality,” Bullard said. Growing awareness of how marginalized communities have been left behind is a chance for the environmental justice movement to be propelled — a chance to “assist and support those communities that have historically not gotten a fair share of investments, whether it’s affordable housing or infrastructure, such as flooding or disaster infrastructure,” he said, adding that the time is now.

“We don’t have 40 years. We might have two decades to get it right,” he said. “This is probably the first time in many decades that I’ve seen this level of urgency.” The Biden administration appointed Bullard to the Environmental Justice Advisory Council in March. The council offers input on how to address current and historic environmental injustices. Bullard will also contribute to the president’s Justice40 initiative to tackle climate change. The goal, according to a White House briefing, is to deliver to disadvantaged communities at least 40 percent of the overall benefits from federal investments in climate and clean energy. The new efforts are rooted in Bullard’s decades of work in social, racial and climate justice. “Some of these same organizations and same institutions were running from racial justice back then,” Bullard said. “Now they’re calling us and saying they’d like to give (millions).” Texas Southern, the historically Black university in Houston, has been on the receiving end of that interest. TSU got $1.25 million from the Houston Endowment last year to establish the Robert D. Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice. The center also received $250,000 from J.P. Morgan Chase this year and another $4 million from the Bezos Earth Fund, a $10 billion initiative launched by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos to fight climate change.

Houston Chronicle - October 23, 2021

Erica Grieder: Texas's bizarre, draconian abortion law will get its day at the Supreme Court

Texas leaders have long had a handy riposte for the suboptimal consequences of their own actions: “Thank God for Mississippi.” Meaning, in other words, that things could be worse. That’s still true, in a sense. Things can always get worse. But, embarrassingly, the old saw has lost some of its impact. More and more, Texas is held up as a cautionary tale, if not an outright laughingstock. “Don’t Texas Virginia,” said Vice-President Kamala Harris at a Thursday campaign event for Terry McAuliffe, the Democrat seeking to reclaim the governorship of Virginia. Polls suggest he faces a close race against Republican Glenn Youngkin, a conservative businessman backed by Donald Trump, in an election next month in a state that’s been trending blue. Harris could have been referring to a number of things that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the Legislature have done in 2021. Or failed to do, like fix the electric grid.

But she made it clear that she had in mind, specifically, Senate Bill 8, the de facto abortion ban bundled with a bizarre bounty-hunting enforcement scheme that Abbott signed, with a grin on his face, back in May. “We don’t even have to imagine,” she continued. “We have empirical evidence right before us, guys, of a governor in the state of Texas who is telling women what and who they can be based on some arbitrary decision that includes empowering bounty hunters to intimidate, to instill fear in women. This is the power of a governor.” The sheer audacity of this law may be its undoing. In addition to being a draconian, near-total abortion ban — it bars the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy — it delegates responsibility for enforcing that ban to anyone in the country with an ax to grind, by creating a private cause of action. That’s a bizarre mechanism, and one that would set a dangerous precedent. In a conference call Friday afternoon, attorneys who are fighting SB8 pointed out that similarly structured laws could pop up all all over the country, if this law stands — and they wouldn’t only come from the pro-life movement, or the right. “The issues in our case are broader than abortion,” said Marc Hearron of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “In fact, every individual right is at stake.” He noted that a gun-rights group, for example, has filed an amicus brief in this context.

Houston Chronicle - October 24, 2021

After criticism for parking air monitoring vans in Austin, TCEQ putting regional one in Houston for faster response to chemical incidents

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spent nearly $1 million outfitting mobile air monitoring vans — and then stationed them in Austin. State officials say that’s where the staff is to service and deploy them. But when a refinery leaks or catches fire, it takes hours for the van to arrive here. The time that elapses is crucial for emergency officials to decide what precautions to put in place, advocates said. Hearing that criticism, the agency has now re-worked three small SUVs to fit new, $75,000 air monitoring machines. These will be downgraded regional monitoring vehicles to fill the gap. One will go to Corpus Christi, another to Beaumont and a third to Houston.

“That’s exactly why we did these regional survey assets, is to be able to fill that niche,” said Cory Chism, who oversees air monitoring for the agency. “It’s a force multiplier for what we’re doing.” The decision comes as the agency is also pushing for a new Houston office, saying the current one east of downtown has leaky windows, mold and rodents. Some 200 employees work there, according to the agency’s recent self-assessment. Its parking lot, too, is neither big nor secure enough, according to the report. Staff reported trespassing, theft and vandalism and a lack of 24-hour security. They argue it wouldn’t be safe to house the valuable vans there if they wanted to. Equipment in the SUV can be removed. But elevators that staff use to move equipment often break, the report said. There have also been recurring electrical problems and lacking custodial services since they moved in — in the mid-1990s.

San Antonio Express-News - October 23, 2021

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Texas legislative nightmare finally ends

Perceptions speak volumes. To hear Gov. Greg Abbott tell it, the 87th Texas Legislature was a success. It wasn’t enough for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and other Republicans who called for a fourth Special Session. And Democrats? Oh, they are angry. The state’s third special session ended Tuesday and the damage done to Texans, many who lack a meaningful political voice, will be felt for years. In a tweet Wednesday, Patrick called on Abbott to bring the House and Senate back for a fourth not-so special session: The Senate “finished a strong conservative session. But more needs to be done. (The) Senate added felony penalties for illegal voting, but the House cut to a misdemeanor.”

It’s true state lawmakers did not give Abbott everything he wanted, as they also resisted Senate Bill 51, his push to prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates that would have further codified his Oct. 11 executive order to prohibit them by any Texas entity, including private businesses and health care facilities. Mercifully, Abbott’s spokesperson told the Texas Tribune on Wednesday the governor wouldn’t call another special session, though he added, “at this time.” Abbott was pleased with new measures in property tax relief, appropriating funding from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, and redrawing legislative districts to dilute minority representation. He wrote in a statement Tuesday that the Legislature ensured “an even brighter future for the Lone Star State.” Abbott also noted other “dynamic achievements” and thanked those who worked in the Texas House and Senate, writing: “Because of their efforts, the future of Texas is stronger, safer, and freer.” But we wonder: How bright is the future for people of color? Women? Low-income people? Transgender youth? Victims of gun violence?

San Antonio Express-News - October 23, 2021

The Texas Lottery earned a record $8 billion this year. Here's where the money went.

Ticket sales for the Texas Lottery hit a record $8.107 billion this fiscal year, according to the Texas Lottery Commission. The extra lottery sales were boosted by a pair of dual multi-state jackpots in January and a year that saw the highest in-state draw game sales. Scratch ticket sales alone accounted for $6.617 billion. The record sales also come despite extensive cuts to the Texas Lottery Commission’s advertisement budget in recent years. The lottery was approved by Texas voters in 1991 through a constitutional amendment. A portion of the proceeds go toward public education and veteran organizations. More than $27 billion has been generated for education in Texas since Gov. Ann Richards purchased the first ticket on May 29, 1992, according to the Texas Lottery Commission, the agency that oversees the lottery in the state. To date, $166 million has gone toward organizations that help veterans.

This is how the Texas Lottery Commission allocated funding in 2020: Just over 66.3 percent went toward prizes. Then 24.8 percent were added to the state’s Foundation School Fund, which supports operational and special school program services. That left 5.2 percent to compensate retailers, 3.4 percent to administer the lottery and .3 percent for veterans’ assistance and other state programs. This year’s calculations were not available by publication. However, Texas Lottery players this year collected $5.492 billion in prizes, the most money paid out in prizes in the lottery’s 29-year history. For the more than 20,000 retailers that sell lottery tickets across the state, commissions amounted to $434.1 million, the highest payment to retailers in Texas history. The extra sales this year pushed record profits to public schools and veteran organizations to $1.998 billion. Since 2009, the Texas Veterans Commission’s Fund for Veterans’ Assistance makes grants available to charitable organizations, local governments and veteran service organizations. These programs provide financial assistance, transportation services, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder counseling and housing assistance.

Fort Worth Business Press - October 23, 2021

Sid Miller: Please go vote in the constitutional amendment election and for Prop 3

Early Voting is now underway for the November 2nd constitutional amendment elections. I urge every Texan to do their homework and cast an informed vote on each of the eight proposed amendments that are before the voters. Voters can find more information at VoteTexas.gov. But I want to spotlight a specific amendment, Proposition 3, also known as the “Right to Worship Amendment.” “Prop 3” would prevent the State of Texas, or the government at any level, within the state from closing down any gathering of worship; it prohibits government agencies and officials from issuing orders that close or have the effect of closing “churches, congregations, and places of worship” in Texas. Prop 3 also further secures the Texas Freedom to Worship Act, passed during the 87th Regular Session, by preserving it in the Texas Constitution.

The first words of the Texas Constitution are a plea: ” Humbly invoking the blessings of Almighty God…” Currently Section 1, Article 6 of the Texas Constitution deals with our freedom to worship. Some legal scholars believe that this should have been enough to prevent local government from regulating or closing religious services during Covid. Obviously, it wasn’t enough in light of the actions by some local government officials in Texas who tried close church worship services and some pastors being threatened with jail for violating local orders on public gatherings. Section 6 was originally written to prevent any citizen from being compelled to attend a religious service – so many local politicians and bureaucrats limited its interpretation to just that. The passage of Proposition 3 will make it crystal clear to government at any level that they have no right to interfere with religious services – it will be a guaranteed right of every Texan under our state constitution. With Proposition 3 as part of the Texas Constitution, the local head of a church or the governing board of any religious body will have the power to decide what is best for their membership when it comes to public health and the needs and desires of the people they serve when it comes to religious worship – as it should be.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 23, 2021

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Southlake school Holocaust incident shows what a mess Texas made with race theory law

As local school districts — most prominently, Carroll — struggle with the implementation of Texas’ new laws on teaching social studies, we’re getting a real-time view of the consequences of bad policymaking. Republican legislative leaders, determined to root out “critical race theory” in Texas schools, wrote a vague law on what teachers can say in certain lessons. State officials have offered little useful guidance on how more than 1,000 school districts must apply the original bill and the clean-up effort enacted in a special session. So, we’ve seen what often happens in bureaucracies: overly cautious rules that defy common sense. In Southlake, an administrator told teachers that if they have, for example, a book about the Holocaust in the classroom, they must offer the “opposing view,” according to a recording that NBC News obtained. Everyone from the state teachers association to the author of the law called that a wild misinterpretation, but the story was off and running nationwide.

Neither the original law, HB 3979, nor a clean-up bill from lawmakers’ second special session says anything about the Holocaust. No reasonable person would say that the Holocaust constitutes “a widely debated and currently controversial issue of public policy or social affairs” that requires objective treatment under the second law. And it’s far from clear that the law is even meant to govern classroom libraries. But there’s too much ambiguity. Teachers are rightly concerned about getting caught in a political maelstrom. So, administrators such as Gina Peddy, Carroll’s executive director for curriculum and instruction, are applying overly broad strictures. Carroll school board president Michelle Moore said that Peddy reached for a bad example. The incident may have stemmed from a confluence of events: a dust-up over an anti-racism book in a Carroll teacher’s classroom, a grievance filed with the school board in that case and the confusion over the new law. “As a district, we have to work hand in hand with teachers to better understand the legislation, how it’s implemented, the curriculum,” Moore said. “We possibly rushed things, and now we need to take a step back.” If the state wants to reach this far into the classroom, it must provide better guidance to those who have to somehow make it work. The Texas Education Agency issued a roundup of new education legislation, but it mostly restates what the Legislature passed.

NBC News - October 24, 2021

Two children dead, eight people hurt when drag racer veers off track

Two children were killed and eight people were injured when a drag racing vehicle veered off a track and struck spectators Saturday afternoon in the Texas Hill Country, authorities said. One child, a 6-year-old boy, was pronounced dead at the scene; a second boy, 8, died at a hospital, police in Kerrville, where the accident happened, said in a statement Saturday evening. The eight injured included a 46-year-old woman in critical condition, a 27-year-old woman in critical condition, a 26-year-old man whose condition was not known, and a 34-year-old man, identified as the driver, who police described described as "stable."

Two other people were treated at the scene and released, and a 3-month-old girl and a 4-year-old boy, were hospitalized "for precautionary evaluations," police said. The injured were taken to medical facilities in Kerrville, Austin and San Antonio, police said. The crash happened at about 3:20 p.m. at a temporary track at Kerrville Aviation at the Kerrville-Kerr County Airport, about about 65 miles northwest of San Antonio. Police said the driver lost control and the left the runway before striking spectators and parked vehicles. Police are investigating the crash. The racing was part of the "Airport Race Wars 2" event. Organizers and an airport official did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Ross Dunagan, the founder of race organizer Flyin' Diesel Performance & Offroad, an auto repair and tuning shop adjacent to the airport, said in a Facebook video about an hour after the crash, "The race is shut down and we ask that you please pray for everybody involved."

Associated Press - October 23, 2021

Texas joins Oklahoma’s effort to overturn McGirt

Two northeast Oklahoma cities, state law enforcement and business groups and the states of Texas, Kansas, Louisiana and Nebraska have filed briefs supporting the state’s request that the U.S. Supreme Court overturn its decision that some tribal reservations were never disestablished.

The cities of Tulsa and Owasso filed friend of the court briefs Thursday alleging crimes such as domestic violence have not been prosecuted because of what is known as the McGirt decision. A federal prosecutor and the Cherokee Nation dispute the claims. The McGirt decision found that Oklahoma has no jurisdiction over crimes committed by or against Native Americans on tribal reservations.

Texas Monthly - October 22, 2021

Ted Cruz’s joke bill finds rare cross-aisle buy-in

This week, Cruz filed the “Stop the SURGE Act,” which is what’s known as a “messaging” bill, intended to garner headlines rather than become law. It’s working! Here we are. The bill would require that undocumented immigrants at the Mexican border be transferred to new ports of entry that the bill would create far from the southwest: wealthy coastal vacation destinations such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket; liberal enclaves including Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Palo Alto, California; and spots that troll specific political opponents of Texas’s junior senator, such as North Hero, Vermont (population 939), the location of Bernie Sanders’s lake house). The bill won’t go anywhere, as Democrats control the House and Senate and are unlikely to spend time indulging a troll job from Cruz.

But the junior senator’s point is that he believes leaders in progressive parts of the country would be aghast to see the immigrants who currently enter the country in Del Rio, Laredo, McAllen, and other parts of the border in their own communities instead. That appears to be a misread, however. Keith Chatinover, county commissioner in Massachusetts’s Dukes County, home of Martha’s Vineyard, told his local paper that he had no problem with Cruz’s proposal. “I would love Martha’s Vineyard to become a haven for new immigrants to this country, but Senator Cruz has no idea what he’s talking about regarding a ‘border crisis,’?” he told the Martha’s Vineyard Times, pointing out that his own community has seen an influx of immigrants from Brazil. Massachusetts state senator Julian Cyr echoed the sentiment, telling the Boston Herald that he would “welcome the opportunity to have more people come to our region and work and live.” The Stop the SURGE Act wouldn’t exactly be sound policy. Immigrants entering the country from Mexico are more likely to have family in South Texas than in rural Vermont, and access to legal resources for those seeking asylum is similarly more robust in Texas, where organizations to meet those needs have been built over many years. But it’s rare that a handful of progressive officials find common ground with a Ted Cruz trolling attempt, so we commend him for bipartisanship.

Bloomberg - October 23, 2021

Exxon to close two Houston office towers after worker exodus

Exxon Mobil Corp. plans to close two Houston-area office towers after a raft of of unprecedented job cuts and employee departures over the past year and a half. Workers in the suburban office buildings known as Hughes Landing in The Woodlands will move to the oil giant’s main Houston-area campus a few miles away, according to an internal memo seen by Bloomberg. The closure is the latest turn in Exxon CEO Darren Woods’ effort to recast what was once the most-profitable U.S. corporation after back-to-back oil busts and ascendant environmentalism called into question the company’s strategy. “We look forward to bringing our teams together and having them collaborate on the Houston campus,” Exxon said in an email on Friday.

Exxon announced its first major job cuts in decades last year, with 1,900 U.S. employees cut as part of a global effort to shrink headcount by 15 percent. But Exxon’s U.S. workforce has been further reduced following the last two performance review cycles, people familiar with the matter said earlier this year. Exxon’s first annual loss in four decades in 2020 prompted Woods to take an aggressive approach to cutting costs in an effort to sustain the company’s $15 billion-a-year dividend. The company reduced “structural costs” by $3 billion in 2020 and Woods expects to double that amount by 2023, he said on a conference call with analysts in July. Buoyed by the cuts and rising oil prices, the stock is up more than 50% this year. Efforts to move out of Hughes Landing have been complicated by tax abatements awarded when the company first moved in. The company is negotiating an early end to those obligations. “We believe the matter will reach resolution soon,” Exxon said in the statement.

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 23, 2021

'Don't you have rules against this?': As DA prosecutes protest shooting, court papers reveal clash with police

A judge on Friday ruled against having an evidence hearing that would have aired more of the tension between Austin police and the Travis County district attorney in the case of the fatal shooting of a Black Lives Matter protester. State District Judge Cliff Brown, who already ruled last summer that nothing "legally or criminally coercive" occurred when the DA's office significantly edited down Detective David Fugitt's presentation to the grand jury, decided that new developments did not merit a hearing. Defense attorneys Clint Broden and Doug O'Connell asked for the hearing on behalf of their client Daniel Perry, who is charged with murder after he shot and killed protester Garrett Foster. Perry has said he shot Foster, who was also armed, in self-defense.

Since the grand jury indicted Perry on a murder charge, Fugitt has filed a sworn statement accusing the DA's office of tampering with him as a witness. Additionally, the city engaged an outside consultant to investigate alleged policy violations leveled against Assistant Chief Richard Guajardo related to the matter, and the consultant later cleared him. Austin Police Chief Joe Chacon first found out about Fugitt's allegations after a phone call with DA José Garza, according to the consultant's interview transcript with Chacon. "The DA rarely calls me, so I stepped out to take the call," Chacon said. "He was quite upset and told me — asked me if I knew that one of my detectives had signed an affidavit accusing him of a crime. It was the first I had heard about it. ... He asked me, 'Don't you have rules against this?' You know, 'How is it that this can be happening without your knowledge.'" The DA's office does not deny that a phone call took place between Garza and Chacon, but it disagrees "with the strongly contested speculation" from Fugitt's defense "that there was some kind of threat or demand that that detective be punished," Assistant District Attorney Guillermo Gonzalez said during a virtual hearing Thursday.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 24, 2021

2026 World Cup would mean big things for Dallas. A confident Jerry Jones, committee make their pitch

Would Jerry Jones be surprised if the Dallas area were passed over as a World Cup host? The Dallas Cowboys owner admits he has some biases, given his obvious ties to the region and that AT&T Stadium factors heavily into the proposed bid for 2026. Partiality aside, though: “I would be, yes,” Jones told The Dallas Morning News on Friday. Though the joint United States-Mexico-Canada World Cup is still five years away, this weekend is crucial in determining North Texas’ fate in the 48-team tournament. FIFA executives, including vice president Victor Montagliani and Colin Smith, the association’s Chief Tournaments and Events Office, are visiting this weekend, touring stadiums and key sites, meeting with stakeholders like the Jones family and inspecting infrastructure. The FIFA delegation toured Frisco’s Toyota Stadium and the National Soccer Hall of Fame on Saturday, as well as Fort Worth’s Stockyards, Sundance Square and Convention Center — proposed sites for FIFA’s Fan Fest.

The group will visit AT&T Stadium in Arlington on Sunday, the marquee venue behind the region’s bid. The Dallas area, which was critical during the 1994 World Cup, the last men’s World Cup on North American soil, is one of 17 U.S. metropolitan areas vying to be one of 11 host sites. The Women’s World Cup was held in the United States in 1999 and 2003, but North Texas did not host matches. To Montagliani, also the president of Concacaf, Jones’ claim isn’t necessarily a surprise. And, frankly, it could be a good thing. “I would expect Jerry Jones to say that,” Montagliani told The News on Saturday. “That’s the confidence I want to see in our candidate cities.” Dallas hopes to be one of 16 North American host cities. Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, the New York/New Jersey area, Orlando, Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle and Washington, D.C. are other candidates for the 10 U.S. bids, with three apiece going to Canada and Mexico. The U.S., in total, will host 60 matches. The Dallas World Cup 2026 bid committee met with FIFA executives over Zoom earlier in the year, and the world soccer association will continue to tour candidate cities this fall. It expects to announce bid winners in 2022.

San Antonio Report - October 22, 2021

TEA to South San board: Issues that led to investigation still plague district

The South San Antonio Independent School District board of trustees voted 4-2 Thursday night to commission an external audit of the superintendent’s expenditures, against the advice of a state-appointed monitor who was introduced to the board just hours earlier. The Texas Education Agency assigned a monitor to South San ISD in August, following a two-year investigation that found school board members failed to cooperate with the superintendent and acted outside of their authority. Jeff Cottrill, TEA deputy commissioner for governance and accountability, introduced monitor and former South San superintendent Abelardo “Abe” Saavedra to the board Thursday. In his remarks to the board, Cottrill said the statutory violations unearthed by the state investigation date back to 2018 but “persist to plague this school system and harm kids.”

“I want to make crystal clear that this is something that isn’t dated. This isn’t something that’s in the past,” he said. “We have what I would classify as exceptionally egregious allegations of governance, dysfunction, and statutory violations in this school system.” South San ISD Superintendent Dr. Marc Puig holds up an accountability report card while speaking during a board meeting on Thursday. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report Trustees Gilbert Rodriguez and Stacey Alderete cast the dissenting votes against the audit of spending by Superintendent Marc Puig. Trustee Gina Villagomez was absent for that part of the meeting. The board also voted 4-2 to request documents from Juan Cruz & Associates “related to the superintendent’s procurement” of the firm and to deliver those documents to the external auditors. Puig hired the firm earlier this year to investigate Felipe Barron III, head football coach, whom Puig placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation. In September, the board voted 5-2, with Rodriguez and Alderete again dissenting, to reprimand Puig for “violations of the district’s school board procurement policies” after he hired the firm. Puig said then that he did not violate policy because he hired the firm to look into a personnel matter, not to represent the board.

National Stories

Slate - October 23, 2021

The story behind “Let’s Go Brandon,” the secretly vulgar chant suddenly beloved by Republicans

On Thursday, Rep. Bill Posey, a Republican from Florida, ended a speech on the House floor with a curious exclamation: “Let’s go, Brandon!” Let’s go who now? Posey had been railing against President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill: “They want you to help put America back where you found it and leave it the hell alone,” he said right before the Brandon cheer, which he accompanied with a desultory fist pump. The expression coming from a sitting member of Congress caused a bit of a stir online. Why? Who’s this Brandon character and what does he have to do with building back, or not building back, America? The simple answer is that he’s a race car driver—but it’s a long story, and who Brandon is actually matters less than what the phrase “Let’s go, Brandon!” means. It’s a euphemism—and its direct translation is “Fuck Joe Biden.”

To understand how an apparent chant of encouragement morphed into a right-wing rallying cry, we have to go back to a NASCAR race at the Talladega Superspeedway that took place about three weeks ago. It was a big day for 28-year-old driver Brandon Brown, who’d just scored his first Xfinity Series win, which is why he was interviewed on camera by NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast. Stavast, on the fly, suggested to Brown that the crowd was cheering “Let’s go, Brandon” in his honor. But anyone watching could hear clearly that that’s not what the crowd was cheering. It’s unclear whether Stavast misheard or was, as some outlets reported, attempting “damage control,” and Stavast has not commented on the matter. Some confusion would be somewhat understandable—“Let’s go, Brandon” has the same number of syllables as “Fuck Joe Biden.” But for conservatives who believe the media is constantly lying to them, it felt like a potent example of a journalist distorting the truth. After that, “the conservative social media ecosystem quickly latched onto the moment,” as the BBC put it. “Let’s go, Brandon!” has since been chanted at college football games, printed on T-shirts, and praised by Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz. It’s also trended numerous times on social media as a tongue-in-cheek way to criticize Biden and blame him for anything that’s going wrong in the country at any given moment.

Washington Post - October 23, 2021

Nevada Republican who claimed someone stole dead wife’s ballot is charged with voter fraud

Donald Kirk Hartle looked troubled last November. It was a few days after Election Day and the Las Vegas man was telling a local news station that someone had stolen his late wife’s mail-in ballot and returned it to Clark County election officials, according to Nevada’s online ballot tracker. “That is pretty sickening to me, to be honest with you,” Hartle said in an interview then with KLAS 8 News Now. “It was, uh, disbelief. It just — it made no sense to me.” Hartle noted that his late wife, Rosemarie, had died in 2017, but remained on the voter rolls. The signature on the returned ballot had matched what election officials had on file for Rosemarie, KLAS 8 News Now reported at the time, leaving Hartle to wonder “who took advantage of his grief” and how had they pulled it off? Nearly a year later, there appears to be an answer.

On Thursday, the Nevada attorney general’s office announced it had filed two charges of voter fraud against Hartle, alleging that he forged his late wife’s name to vote with her ballot. Both charges — one for voting using the name of another person and another for voting more than once in the same election — are category D felonies that each can carry a prison sentence of up to four years, along with a fine of up to $5,000. “Voter fraud is rare, but when it happens it undercuts trust in our election system and will not be tolerated by my office,” Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford, a Democrat, said in a statement. “I want to stress that our office will pursue any credible allegations of voter fraud and will work to bring any offenders to justice.” Hartle allegedly voted twice, including once in his late wife’s name, between Oct. 26 and Oct. 30 of last year, according to a criminal complaint. David Chesnoff, an attorney for Hartle, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday, but told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that his client would respond to the allegations in court. His first court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 18.

Houston Chronicle - October 24, 2021

Democrats weigh plastic tax in budget package

Democrats are considering a plastic tax to encourage the industry to increase recycling and back off the production of single-use products. One of the tax provisions under discussion for inclusion in Democrats' budget package is a 20 cent per pound tax on the production of "virgin" plastic resin used for single-use products like food containers and beauty products, which could generate billions of dollars a year in revenue. The idea stems from legislation introduced this summer by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Rep. Tom Suozzi, D-N.Y., designed to encourage manufacturers to switch to recycled plastic and help pay for the clean up of plastic waste.

"The plastics industry has done far too little to address the damage its products cause," Whitehouse said this summer. "Plastic pollution chokes our oceans, hastens climate change, and threatens people’s well-being." Scientists estimate approximately 8 million metric tons of plastic waste — nearly 20 billion pounds — end up in the world’s oceans each year. The plastic is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces by the combination of salt water, waves and sun, slowly poisoning the fish and other marine creatures that eat it, eventually ending up in humans' food supply. But plastics is also a core industry in regions like the Texas Gulf Coast, employing 92,000 people in the United States alone and generating $1.2 trillion in annual revenues worldwide. In a letter to Congress earlier this month the Plastics Industry Association warned the tax stood to raise the cost of plastic products by more than 25 percent and drive U.S. production overseas. "Simply slapping a new tax on virgin resin and expecting significant change ignores the fact that the supply of recycled plastic is limited," read the letter. If passed in its current form, the plastic tax would start at 10 center per pound of virgin plastic, increasing to 20 cents by 2024. According to the American Chemistry Council, the United States produces 8.2 billion pounds of plastic resin a month. Under the legislation only plastic employed in single use products would be taxed, leaving plastic items like synthetic clothing and car parts exempt, along with resin that is exported abroad. In 2018 roughly 40 percent of U.S. plastic production went to single-use products, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Washington Post - October 23, 2021

Collin Allred et al: End the monopoly. Let Medicare negotiate drug prices.

(Democrats Colin Allred, Cindy Axne, Sharice Davids, Andy Kim and Abigail Spanberger are second-term representatives from Texas, Iowa, Kansas, New Jersey and Virginia.) We represent a geographically diverse share of the American people — but in each of our districts, we hear a collective concern. The high cost of prescription drugs is hurting families — and it is long past time to bring those prices down. Pharmacists in our districts are telling us that they are seeing more patients walk away from the counter without their medication. They tell us they are hearing from families who say they have no choice but to ration insulin. And they report speaking with seniors who have considered traveling to Canada or Mexico to find cheaper options. The pandemic has deepened this crisis, as American health care has been stretched to the breaking point. We have heard incredibly personal stories — thousands of stories — about how skyrocketing drug prices are putting the health and financial security of hard-working Americans at risk. Americans should be able to afford the medicines they need no matter who they are, where they live or the size of their bank account. But too often, Americans are forced to make decisions about their health based not on what their doctor prescribes but on what they can afford.

At this moment, the pharmaceutical industry has monopoly power to set and raise prices for thousands of prescription drugs in the United States. Through intimidation, deception and millions of dollars in lobbying, pharmaceutical companies have worked to keep the rules rigged in their favor to avoid competition from lower-cost drugs and to inflate profits for their executives. The current system is broken, and it is harming Americans. But now, Congress can stand on the side of consumers and take decisive action to lower prescription drug costs for millions of Americans. By giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices, Congress can make sure patients come first. Medicare, the U.S. government’s health insurance program for seniors, has long been prohibited by law from negotiating the prices it pays to drugmakers for medications. We know the pharmaceutical industry is using this loophole to set and keep prices high. That’s why giving Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices must be a priority. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs already enjoys this leverage. Extending that power to Medicare is a step the House took in 2019 with Republican votes — only to see it die in the Senate. We have another chance to pass it now as part of President Biden’s economic agenda. The Lower Drug Costs Now Act would allow Medicare to use its bargaining power to negotiate fairer prices for drugs with manufacturers and would extend those lower costs to Americans enrolled in private insurance as well.

Washington Post - October 23, 2021

Virginia’s gubernatorial race tests the fear-of-Trump factor as a political motivator

Terry McAuliffe has never been accused of understatement, and as he kicked off a bus tour Friday morning in Arlington, the former governor described the importance to Democrats of his race against Republican Glenn Youngkin this way: “The message we send here in Virginia,” he said, “is a message that’s going to resonate around the country.” No single election ever answers all the questions of the moment in politics, but fairly or not, the Nov. 2 Virginia contest has taken on outsize importance, particularly to nervous Democrats who are justifiably fearful about losing their congressional majorities in the 2022 midterms. It’s as if the future of the party and of President Biden’s second two years in office are suddenly wrapped up in how well McAuliffe does in his bid to regain the governor’s mansion. One thing to remember is that McAuliffe’s victory in 2013, while it beat the historical pattern of Virginians electing a governor from the party that does not hold the White House, did not foreshadow the 2014 midterms, which were won by the Republicans.

No matter what happens in Virginia’s gubernatorial race, Democrats will be on the defensive in 2022. The question is: by how much? Still, the McAuliffe-Youngkin race can begin to answer some of the questions about the current state of the electorate and forces that will shape the races next year. That begins with the role of former president Donald Trump as a motivator, for Republicans but especially for Democrats, and how that affects who votes and who doesn’t. McAuliffe is doing everything he can to make the race about Trump. He and his team worry that Republicans are more enthusiastic about voting than Democrats. They fear that the Virginia voters who delivered big victories for the Democrats in the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential race seem to see Trump as less of a threat today than when he was in office and that they may be less motivated to turn out in the gubernatorial race. Virginia held elections in each of the four years Trump was in office. Each time, turnout hit a record — the highest ever in a governor’s race in 2017, the highest in a midterm in 2018, the highest in an off-year election in 2019 and the highest in a presidential election in 2020. In each of those years, Democrats scored notable victories, adding to the evidence that Virginia was increasingly becoming a Democratic state.

Axios - October 23, 2021

Murder rates in border cities lower than national average

Even as the nation's homicide rate jumped in 2020 amid rising gun violence, the murder rate in 11 of the largest communities along the U.S. border stayed below the national average, an Axios analysis found. Why it matters: The wide disparity between majority-Mexican American and Mexican immigrant border communities and other similar-size cities further north conflicts with images and myths of the U.S.-Mexico border as a region filled with crime and disarray. New FBI statistics show some cities along the southern U.S. border had a murder rate 10 times lower than northern cities of the same size.

By the numbers: The Axios analysis using FBI data and the 2020 census found 11 border communities from San Diego to Brownsville, Texas, had a homicide rate of 4.1 per 100,000 residents — well below the national average. Del Rio, Texas — a city of nearly 36,000 people, where mounted Border Patrol agents were seen charging at Haitian migrants last month — had a murder rate of 2.8. Lima, Ohio, a city nearly the same size in population, had a homicide rate of 32.9. The border communities of Sunland Park, New Mexico; Nogales, Arizona; and Calexico, California, reported no homicides in 2020. Yes, but: The Axios analysis found the 11 border communities did see a small increase in the homicide rate in 2020 from the previous year when it was 3.7 — well below the national average of 5.1 then. In addition, Yuma, Arizona, remained the exception to the rest of the border cities around violent crime. The city of about 100,000 had a murder rate of 11 people per 100,000 residents. But, but, but: The latest FBI numbers on the 11 border communities are consistent with previous years that showed those cities annually have a much lower violent crime rate than the rest of the country.

Associated Press - October 22, 2021

Film crew voiced complaints before fatal on-set shooting

Hours before actor Alec Baldwin fired a fatal gunshot from a prop gun that he had been told was safe, a camera crew for the movie he was filming walked off the job to protest conditions and production issues that included safety concerns. Disputes in the production of the Western film “Rust" began almost from the start in early October and culminated with seven crew members walking off several hours before 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed. The crew members had expressed their discontent with matters that ranged from safety procedures to their housing accommodations, according to one of those who left. He requested anonymity for fear that speaking up would hurt his prospects for future jobs. Rust Movie Productions did not answer emails Friday and Saturday seeking comment.

At a rehearsal on the film set Thursday at Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe, the gun Baldwin used was one of three that a firearms specialist, or “armorer,” had set on a cart outside the building where a scene was being rehearsed, according to the court records. Court records indicate that an assistant director, Dave Halls, grabbed a prop gun off a cart and handed it to Baldwin, indicating incorrectly that the weapon didn't carry live rounds by yelling “cold gun.” When Baldwin pulled the trigger, he unwittingly killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza, who was standing behind her inside a wooden, chapel-like building. Baldwin, 63, who is known for his roles in “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” and his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” has described the killing as a “tragic accident.” He was a producer of “Rust.” Halls did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment.

October 22, 2021

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2021

Abbott’s pick for Texas Secretary of State is FW lawyer who worked on Trump’s election challenge

AUSTIN — Gov. Greg Abbott has picked a new secretary of state to oversee elections: a Fort Worth attorney who represented the Trump campaign last November in its challenge to election results in Pennsylvania. Abbott, a Republican, named John Scott to the high-profile job Thursday. Scott comes into the role as the secretary of state is poised to gain broad new powers from the divisive elections law Republicans muscled in this year. Former President Donald Trump is also lobbying for more election audits in Texas — a state he carried last November in a contest a top state election official called “smooth and secure.” While the state Senate must still confirm Scott, the Legislature is not set to meet again until 2023 — meaning Scott will hold the job through the upcoming midterm elections. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and all state legislators are on the ballot next year. Scott didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Abbott cited Scott’s history of state service in his decision to appoint him to the role, which has been vacant for months. Scott worked under Abbott at the Texas attorney general’s office, and once Abbott became governor, he tapped Scott to help improve a contracting office at the Health and Human Services Commission. “John Scott is a proven leader with a passion for public service, and his decades of experience in election law and litigation make him the ideal choice for the Texas Secretary of State,” Abbott said in a statement. “John understands the importance of protecting the integrity of our elections and building the Texas brand on an international stage.” Left out of Abbott’s announcement was Scott’s role with the Trump campaign as it sought to fight the 2020 presidential election outcome. Scott and state Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, briefly represented the campaign in its legal battle to stop Pennsylvania from certifying its election results. Democrat Joe Biden carried the battleground state. Scott and Hughes withdrew before a federal judge threw out the case in a scathing order that dismissed claims of large-scale irregularities with mail-in ballots. Common Cause Texas, an open government group, cited that case in calling Scott an “unsuitable nominee.” “In what world does it make sense to appoint someone who took an active role to discredit the will of voters?” Common Cause Texas Associate Director Stephanie Gomez said in a statement. “This is just another example of how Gov. Greg Abbott callously disregards our democratic processes to push forward his own agenda.”

Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2021

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has paid his first voter fraud bounty. It went to an unexpected recipient

Nearly a year after offering up a hefty bounty for evidence of voter fraud in the wake of Donald Trump’s loss, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has handed out his first reward. But instead of going to an informant who smoked out fraud by Democrats, Patrick’s five-figure payout went to a progressive poll worker in Pennsylvania whose tip led to a single conviction of illegal voting by a registered Republican. The unexpected outcome reveals the political dangers of cash bounties. With few strings attached, and more cases of alleged GOP voting fraud still in Pennsylvania courts, Patrick may be asked to shell out even more cash to his opponents. This case also undercuts unsubstantiated GOP concerns that widespread voter fraud helped hand the White House to Joe Biden, political experts said.

In Pennsylvania, a state that was central in Trump’s attempts to overthrow the election, around five cases of voter fraud from last year’s election have been prosecuted, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer — four involved Republicans. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News, tipster Eric Frank said he would have turned in anyone he saw voting illegally regardless of party. But as the scion of a family of Democratic operatives, he also acknowledged the irony of the situation. This week, Frank deposited $25,000 of Patrick’s campaign cash into his bank account. “It’s my belief that they were trying to get cases of Democrats doing voter fraud. And that just wasn’t the case,” Frank said. “This kind of blew up in their face.” Patrick’s spokesman Allen Blakemore declined to comment.

Associated Press - October 21, 2021

House votes to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt

The House voted Thursday to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. In a rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor, the committee's Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, led the floor debate along with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel. Still, the vote was 229-202 with all but nine GOP lawmakers who voted saying “no." The House vote sends the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, where it will now be up to prosecutors in that office to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges. It's still uncertain whether they will pursue the case — Attorney General Merrick Garland would only say at a House hearing on Thursday that they plan to “make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution.”

The partisan split over Bannon's subpoena — and over the committee's investigation in general — is emblematic of the raw tensions that still grip Congress nine months after the Capitol attack. Democrats have vowed to comprehensively probe the assault in which hundreds of Trump's supporters battered their way past police, injured dozens of officers and interrupted the electoral count certifying President Joe Biden's victory. Lawmakers on the investigating committee say they will move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won’t cooperate with the probe. “We will not allow anyone to derail our work, because our work is too important,” Thompson said ahead of the vote. Republicans call it a “witch hunt,” say it is a waste of time and argue that Congress should be focusing on more important matters than the insurrection. Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, leading the GOP opposition on the floor, called the probe an “illicit criminal investigation into American citizens” and said Bannon is a “Democrat party boogeyman.” Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, and both have openly criticized Trump and his role in fomenting the insurrection while the majority of House Republicans have remained silent in the face of Trump's falsehoods about massive fraud in the election. Trump's claims were rejected by election officials, courts across the country and by his own attorney general.

Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2021

Appeals court says whistleblower lawsuit against embattled AG Ken Paxton can proceed

Attorney General Ken Paxton suffered a legal blow on Thursday, when an appeals court ruled that a whistleblower lawsuit against his office can move forward. In the high-profile lawsuit, four former employees allege they faced retaliation after accusing Paxton of abusing his office to help real estate developer and campaign donor Nate Paul. The FBI is investigating the claims. Paxton has denied any wrongdoing. On Thursday, the 3rd Court of Appeals based in Austin sided with a lower court in denying the attorney general’s motion to dismiss the case. The panel of three Democratic judges unanimously rejected the agency’s argument that Paxton is an elected official, not a public employee, so the state’s whistleblower act doesn’t apply.

Under that interpretation, the judges’ opinion said, the effect would be sweeping: employees wouldn’t be protected from retaliation for reporting bribery, sexual harassment or other misconduct by any elected official in Texas, from judges to city councilors. The result could be chilling, the 27-page opinion said. “Under the (Office of the Attorney General’s) interpretation, an employee who knows of significant abuses of power might be less willing to report the illegal conduct if her job is not protected, meaning it becomes less likely that the official’s misconduct will ever come to the voters’ or the legislature’s attention in the first place,” said the opinion delivered by Chief Justice Darlene Byrne. Paxton’s office did not immediately return a request for comment. His office could appeal. Attorneys for the former employees — James “Blake” Brickman, David Maxwell, J. Mark Penley and Ryan Vassar — celebrated the opinion they said rejected the attorney general’s “outlandish arguments.” “This opinion reaffirms that Texas law protects public servants who report violations of law by high-level government officials like the Attorney General,” the attorneys said in a statement. “As we have said from the beginning, no one is above the law, not even Ken Paxton.” The attorney general’s office brought in outside lawyers from the Houston firm Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith to represent the agency in the lawsuit. Paxton, a Republican who has faced fraud charges in an unrelated case since 2015, is seeking a third term in next year’s election. He faces three GOP primary challengers: Land Commissioner George P. Bush, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and Fort Worth state Rep. Matt Krause.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2021

Texas attorney general Ken Paxton says ‘overthrow’ put Joe Biden in White House instead of Trump

Ken Paxton, the Texas attorney general who as chair of “Lawyers for Trump” tried to overturn Joe Biden’s election in court, said Thursday that he not only still believes Trump won but that Biden’s presidency amounts to an “overthrow.” He made the comment in El Paso, during a visit to announce a lawsuit to force Biden to resume construction of the border wall Trump started. A woman in the crowd asked Paxton how many Republican governors “are willing to stand up and proclaim that Trump did win the 2020 election? We have evidence.” “We’re sick of the overthrow,” she said. “This has been an overthrow, and we expect actually all of you to stand up and proclaim this. With 50 Republican senators, well at least maybe 40 of them, it’s time to do that, take the bull by the horn. We won, we know that. This is an overthrow.”

“So, let me just say that I agree with you,” Paxton responded. Referring to his counterpart from Missouri, Eric Schmitt, who joined him at the border, he added, “There’s no two AG’s that have done more on elections stuff.” Paxton’s comments echoed Trump’s own ongoing stance. “The insurrection took place on November 3, Election Day. January 6 was the Protest!” Trump said Thursday night in a statement issued by his political action committee. Paxton punctuated his remarks on the border wall lawsuit with a message to Biden: “Let’s go Brandon. We’ll see you in court.” Among conservatives, the phrase has become code for contempt of Biden since Oct. 2, when NASCAR star Brandon Brown won a race at Talladega. Chants of “F*** Joe Biden” were clearly audible during the post-race interview, though the NBC reporter told viewers it was a more innocuous “Let’s go Brandon.” A staunch Trump supporter, Paxton spoke at the Jan. 6 rally just before a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol hoping to block Congress from formalizing Biden’s victory based on certified results from each state. A month earlier, Paxton had filed a last-minute effort to overturn Biden’s victory by asking the U.S. Supreme Court to block four key battleground states – Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – from voting in the Electoral College.

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2021

Republicans slam Rodney Ellis' proposal to redistrict Harris County, claim it will create 'chaos'

The two Republican Harris County commissioners say a proposal by Democrats to re-draw commissioner precinct boundaries will cut services and dilute the influence of conservative residents. The proposed map by Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis would significantly alter the shapes of precincts 3 and 4, the two represented by Republicans. Precinct 4 would arch along the county’s northern edge from Katy to Baytown, while Precinct 3 would be entirely west of Loop 610. Commissioners Court will take input from the public on redistricting at a hearing Thursday at 4 p.m. Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey called Ellis’s map “the most corrupt plan I have ever seen my 45 years in doing work in Harris County.”

“The objective is control,” Ramsey said Thursday on the Michael Berry Show. “The objective is to create the most chaos as possible, because (the Democrats) cannot stand the fact that 3 and 4 function very well. … It drives them crazy, so they want to blow it up.” He said he is particularly concerned that Precinct 4 would by far have the largest share of residents living in unincorporated areas, who rely on the county for services like parks and community centers. Ramsey predicted a strain on that precinct would lead to cutbacks. Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said the Ellis map, if approved, could allow Democrats to finally capture a fourth seat on Commissioners Court, which would allow them to set tax rates without any input from Republicans. In an email to constituents, Cagle predicted that would lead to future tax increases. Cagle has proposed a map of his own. It largely keeps the current shapes of the precincts intact, while ceding parts of precincts 3 and 4 to precincts 1 and 2.

Texas Tribune - October 21, 2021

Oil industry helped handpick members of Texas advisory group for electric grid reliability, emails show

Oil and gas industry groups had a heavy hand in choosing representatives to serve on a council intended to ensure energy and electricity operations continue during extreme weather conditions, emails provided to The Texas Tribune and confirmed by the Texas Railroad Commission show. The council, recently formalized by the Texas Legislature in the aftermath of the power crisis earlier this year is supposed to ensure the energy and electric industries meet “high priority human needs” and “address critical infrastructure concerns” — responsibilities lawmakers assigned to it after the previous, informal group failed to ensure natural gas suppliers could transport enough fuel to power plants during the February winter storm. The lack of fuel ultimately forced more electricity offline, lengthening the crisis for Texans, millions of whom lost power, heat and, at times, safe drinking water during the dayslong blackouts.

The power outages, primarily caused by the inability of power plants to operate in the extreme cold, caused the deaths of as many as 700 people, according to a BuzzFeed analysis, and caused an estimated $86 billion to $129 billion in economic damage, according to The Perryman Group, a Texas economic firm. In response, lawmakers beefed up the Texas Energy Reliability Council in Senate Bill 3, a sweeping piece of legislation passed in the aftermath of the storm. The overhaul included formalizing the previously loose group of industry representatives into a 25-member council with regulators to head it, requiring the council to “foster communication and planning” to ensure energy and electricity are prepared to meet Texans’ needs, and assigning it a biennial report on the stability of the state’s electricity supply. The revamped council, known as TERC, is composed of electricity, energy and environmental regulators, as well as five participants each from the natural gas supply chain and the electric industry. Those industry representatives are appointed by state regulators, including the Railroad Commission. An email provided to the Tribune shows that the Texas Oil and Gas Association, one of the most influential oil and gas industry groups in Texas, provided a list of names to the Railroad Commission’s executive director for appointment to the council in August. The Railroad Commission of Texas regulates the oil and gas industry. Two months later, all four of the industry groups’ top choices were confirmed to the council by regulators.

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2021

Texas PUC rewrites winter electricity rules but gives generators an out

The Public Utility Commission of Texas approved weatherization standards for electricity generators on Thursday, requiring them to make some changes to their preparedness plans by Dec. 1 but allowing them to submit a “good cause exemption” if they fail to comply. Generators will be required to install wind breaks, protect sensors for cold weather critical components, inspect insulation, confirm the reliability of their air moisture prevention systems, establish schedules for testing freeze protection components and to improve installation of monitoring systems for cold weather critical components. They’ll also need to train workers on cold weather protocols and file winter weather readiness reports with the commission and the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid. Power producers can seek exemptions if they fail to comply with any of the measures, even if they never plan to implement some of the requirements. The PUC and ERCOT will need to sign off on those exemptions.

ERCOT also will be required to inspect power generators this winter, and any generator that experiences multiple forced outages will be required to contract with an engineer to assess their weatherization efforts. PUC Chairman Peter Lake said Thursday that the weatherization rules were the first wave of other, more permanent standards that will be developed and implemented by ERCOT at a later day. The rules approved Thursday will ensure that the grid is ready for the coming winter. “We’ve got to make sure this is in place by winter,” Lake said. “This makes sure the reliability of grid will be vastly improved this year compared to last year.” The new weatherization standards come more than eight months after millions of Texans were plunged into freezing darkness during a winter storm in February, killing hundreds across the state. An average of 34,000 megawatts of power was knocked off ERCOT’s grid, representing nearly half of the record winter demand of 69,871 megawatts. One megawatt is enough electricity to power about 200 homes on a hot summer day.

Axios - October 22, 2021

Austin police staffing measure draws national attention

The big kahuna on the ballot is Proposition A, which would put more cops on the street — at a cost. Why it matters: If approved by voters, the city would be required to have at least two officers for every 1,000 people — it’s now at about 1.7. City finance officials say the measure could cost as much as $600 million over five years. The big picture: From a national perspective, Austin’s seemingly small referendum has become an off-year election fight about policing in America. Money has poured in from across the country on the issue. Financier George Soros’ Open Society Policy Center chipped in $500,000 to the Equity PAC, which is fighting against the proposition.

“We expanded our support for local police reform efforts in the wake of the murder of George Floyd with the goal of increasing community-based safety,” Jennifer Shaw, a senior program officer at the Open Society, tells Axios. “We support the No Way on Prop A campaign because Prop A will not provide comprehensive public safety reform and will reduce the essential services that the people of Austin rely upon.” The Fairness Project, another social justice-minded nonprofit, has contributed $200,000. Local donations include $25,000 from philanthropist Anne Glickman as well as thousands of dollars more from unions and would-be mayoral hopefuls. What they’re saying: Prop A opponents say spending more on law enforcement takes away from other city programs, like libraries. The firefighters union has also opposed the referendum over fears that paying for more police will lead to fire department and EMS cuts. Of note: The Austin police chief has said he opposes the proposition because he calls the police-to-citizen ratio “arbitrary.” The other side: Matt Mackowiak, co-founder of the Save Austin Now PAC, which put the issue on the ballot and previously funded a successful anti-homeless-camping referendum, tells Axios the city's uptick in murders is tied to a “staffing crisis” in the thin blue line and a “toxic” atmosphere related to efforts to defund the police.

San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2021

Embattled CPS Energy head Paula Gold-Williams to step down in early 2022

CPS Energy President and CEO Paula Gold-Williams is leaving the utility early next year, city-owned CPS said Wednesday. Her resignation comes amid strife in CPS’ executive ranks and a financial crunch that prompted the utility to seek a rate increase likely to boost customers’ bills by 10 percent early next year. Gold-Williams, 59, was unable to withstand a tidal wave of challenges that have slammed CPS over the past year. Public opinion soured on the utility and Gold-Williams since the deadly winter freeze in February, when power was knocked out citywide and many residents sat in the cold and dark for long periods.

In a Bexar Facts poll in September, 52 percent of respondents said they disapproved of CPS’ performance. It appears the final straw for Gold-Williams came when Chief Operating Officer Fred Bonewell resigned last week. A series of employee complaints against Bonewell suggested he made a racially insensitive comment during an internal meeting — allegedly asking participants, “Where are all of the Mexicans?” — and spent company money freely, seemingly without a budget. Gold-Williams had promoted Bonewell to the utility’s No. 2 position in June despite eight prior employee complaints against him. Bonewell was only one in a string of high-ranking executives to leave CPS this year. Seven top managers, including Bonewell, have exited the utility since February. “I want to thank Paula Gold Williams for her service to our community,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg, one of five CPS trustees, said in a statement Wednesday evening. “CPS Energy is dealing with a number of serious issues simultaneously. The next CEO must ensure that the utility successfully navigates these challenges while ensuring the organization’s stability and addressing the ratepayers’ needs.”

Austin American-Statesman - October 21, 2021

'Significant' student debt affects Texas' minority college students disproportionately

When Lily Huynh graduated from the University of Texas in 2019, she left campus with a degree in psychology and about $26,000 in student debt. Even after working 20 hours a week during part of her time in school and occasionally having “sleep for dinner,” Huynh said she needed the loans to pay for rent and for expenses such as textbooks. She has managed to pay off about $5,000 in interest on the loan, but she still will likely be making payments until at least 2040. “There’s no way I would have been able to go to college without taking out the loans that I had,” Huynh said. “Honestly, the only option I could have done to avoid this is to have gone to a different school.”

Huynh’s experience is not uncommon. Texas college students had “a significant amount” of unmet financial need during fiscal 2020, and hundreds of thousands of students have accrued student loans to pay for college, according to a draft report by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. The board, which oversees higher education in the state, plans to consider adopting the statewide report on student financial aid in higher education during its quarterly meeting on Thursday. The report provides an overview of financial aid provided to undergraduate and graduate students as well as the amount of student loan debt obtained by students in the state. According to the report, Texas residents received $11 billion in student financial aid through federal, institutional, private and state funding during fiscal 2020, but the money still wasn’t enough to cover the high costs of college for many students in the state. The average cost of attendance for a public, four-year university in the state based on tuition, fees, room and board and other expenses was $24,882. However, Texas undergraduate residents at four-year universities still have an average unmet need of $11,928 after subtracting the support from grants; tuition exemptions and waivers; loans; and work-study programs, the report states.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 21, 2021

UNT Health Science official at center of vaccine program shares ‘misleading’ COVID tweet

A UNT Health Science Center official who was at the forefront of the center’s COVID-19 vaccination partnership with Tarrant County shared a vaccine-related Twitter post that was flagged by the social media platform as “misleading.” He also shared another post that asserted the coronavirus likely emerged from a Chinese lab, potentially as a result of a bioweapons program. David Mansdoerfer, the special assistant to UNT Health Science Center President Michael Williams, held a key role in the school-county vaccination partnership, in which the UNT Health Science Center agreed to increase Tarrant County’s vaccination capacity by setting up new sites and coordinating outreach to residents. The contract lists Mansdoerfer as HSC’s primary contact person.

Mansdoerfer told the Star-Telegram that his Twitter feed is a reflection of the topics he finds interesting. “Both of those particular instances are unsettled questions that there’s a lot of national dialogue about,” he said. “For both of them, I never clearly stated one position or the other.” (Mansdoerfer’s Twitter account, which had been set to public, became private after Mansdoerfer spoke with the Star-Telegram.) Claire Wardle — the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit First Draft, which combats misleading and false information — said the real concern is not the individual posts, but the net effect of similar tweets from similarly situated authority figures. “What it means over time, when all of these drips keep falling, is that people are losing trust in those that they need to trust in an emergency situation like a pandemic,” Wardle said. “So while people can dismiss this individual tweet, what it means to have people in authority talking in this way means that you are really, I would argue, causing real harm to those people that would potentially trust them.” An HSC spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 22, 2021

Mac Engel: Future of F1 race in Texas hinges on Gov. Abbott making annual $25M handout

As evidenced by the more than 10,000 people in downtown Dallas who watched Martin “Checo” Perez take a casual lap, and wave at fans last weekend, Formula One racing is one of the most internationally popular, and profitable, brands in sports. As evidenced by the more than $250 million that Texans have essentially handed Formula One, one of the reasons F1 is so profitable is because of its model that exploits governments. On Sunday, the U.S. Grand Prix will race at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin for the 10th consecutive year, which will conclude the original 10-year contract with the track that opened in 2012. F1’s future in Texas depends on Gov. Greg Abbott, and his willingness to spend another $25 million to keep the event. A bill has been filed to his office for another round of funds from the Texas Major Events Reimbursement Program (MERP).

There are a number of other sports entities in Texas looking for MERP help beyond COTA and F1 — the NHRA, the Professional Bull Riders World Finals, the Women’s PGA Championship, PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship, and the Ryder Cup. The concept is Texas spends Texans’ money to attract events, which result in tourism dollars. Sometimes it works. Of all the sports deals in Texas that have ever been made, none look as shady as the one created by former Texas comptroller Susan Combs and approved by her boss, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. In the case of the F1 race in Austin, this has never appeared to be worth $25 million a year for Texans. The contract with F1 and COTA has the feel of a back-door deal between buddies to land a fun toy, and yet this is the first time Gov. Greg could justify the money for F1. For the first time ever in America, there may finally be enough of an audience to make an F1 race worth the investment. May is the key word. Neither COTA nor the office of Gov. Abbott responded to an interview request. The lack of transparency about this subject is consistent on a subject that elected officials have tried to keep at a whisper since its inception.

Dallas Observer - October 19, 2021

In Texas, the waitlist for a bed at a state mental hospital hits an all-time high

During her years as a Burnet County criminal magistrate judge, Roxanne Nelson was at the jail every Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. She saw how county jails dealt with people with mental illnesses accused of committing crimes. "When I started in March 2010, if I couldn't get someone into a bed within 21 days, I was upset. Because I thought 21 days is a long time for somebody to stay in a county jail with a mental illness," she said. Nelson left her judgeship in 2016. She now serves on the state's Judicial Commission on Mental Health (JCMH), a group of current and former judicial and law enforcement officials, psychiatric experts and policy experts from across the state. Her hopes for the people with mental illness waiting in county jails for a state hospital bed have since grown dim. "I thought 21 days was terribly long time for somebody to be stuck in our county jails," Nelson said. "Now, if someone told me they could get someone a bed in 21 days, I'd be thanking the lord."

Nelson's outlook reflects a growing crisis within Texas' mental health system, which hit a grim milestone on Friday. According to sources at the JCMH, there are now at least 1,813 people waiting for a bed in a state mental hospital. Texas laws are meant to protect people with mental illness from criminal prosecution if experts conclude they were suffering a mental health crisis when they allegedly committed a crime. The Texas Health and Human Services Commission and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice administer "competency restoration" programs to these individuals. The goal is not therapeutic; they hope to restore individuals' psychological state to the minimum threshold of mental function necessary to prosecute them. People accused of offenses ranging from petty misdemeanors to violent felonies can be deemed incompetent to stand trial and left to wait in jail while they await one of the state hospitals' 3,000 or so beds. The milestone reached last week marks the latest in an ongoing crisis within Texas' mental health system. Experts say the crisis has been driven in part by lawmakers' failure to grow state hospitals in tandem with the states' ballooning population.

Dallas Observer - October 15, 2021

Texas bars and clubs once again caught in the middle of COVID politics

Last year, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the temporary closure of businesses that earn 51% or more of their revenue from selling alcohol — bars and most music venues, in other words. Owners who refused to comply faced fines. A new year has brought a new order. On Oct. 11, Abbott decreed that Texas businesses cannot require proof of COVID-19 vaccinations from employees and consumers. To put that another way: Before a vaccine was available to staunch the spread of COVID-19, bars had to close for fear that they'd become super-spreading hotspots for the virus. Now that vaccines are available and widely credited with turning the tide on the pandemic, these same venues can stay open — maskless and at full capacity — but they can't require their customers or employees to be vaccinated. Any venue owner who doesn't obey faces a $1,000 fine. Some bar and live music venue owners are naturally feeling baffled — put upon, even.

“Countless Texans fear losing their livelihoods because they object to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination for reasons of personal conscience, based on a religious belief or for medical reasons,” Abbott said in his latest executive order. Presumably, the servers and bartenders who lost their jobs last year as a direct effect of the governor's previous order can sympathize with those who fear for their livelihoods. They lost theirs, after all. Of course, those same servers and bartenders are the ones who'll now be sucking down the viruses spewed by the unvaccinated folks whose tender consciences and demand for bodily autonomy don't extend to thinking about anybody else's body. “It is extremely arbitrary,” said Chris Polone, owner The Rail Club in Fort Worth. “The infuriating aspect of it is they closed down 51 percenters for an entire year. All, ironically, small business owners. They also had the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission issue $1,000 citations to bar owners where customers were not wearing masks and then not even a month later, he [Gov. Greg Abbott] flips the script and starts fining local municipalities for enforcing masks.” The Rail Club reopened in June 2020 at full capacity against the governor's command, resulting in an ongoing lawsuit between the club and the state. To be clear, The Rail Club doesn't demand that its customers be vaccinated, even as some touring acts have refused to perform in venues that don't require either proof of vaccinations or negative COVID tests for fans.

Texas Monthly - October 21, 2021

The State of Texas tried to kill Ernest Willis. But he still had a lot of living to do.

Ernest Ray Willis, better known as Ernie, had every right to let his anger get the better of him, but he never did. Ernie’s number one beef was with the State of Texas, which tried its best to kill him, even though the worst thing he’d ever done was drink too much and get behind the wheel of a truck. That particular misunderstanding began in 1986 in Pecos County, when the district attorney used flimsy forensic science to indict Ernie for capital murder. Then, while in jail awaiting trial, Ernie was doped up with anti-psychotic medicine, leaving him looking, during the trial, like a “satanic demon,” in the words of the prosecutor. He was convicted and sent to death row, where he forced himself to keep his anger down. “You can’t hate and hate and hate,” he told himself. Somehow, he maintained this attitude even when, in 1991, the state came within 48 hours of executing him. He was freed 13 years later, in 2004, after his lawyers finally convinced the courts he was innocent. Ernie was 59 and had had 17 and a half years stolen from him. Still, he kept his cool. “Nothing can bring back those years,” he said in his slow West Texas drawl.

Ernie could have also complained mightily about his body, which had taken a lot of abuse and neglect while he was on death row and started failing him after he got out. Living in Mississippi with his wife, Verilyn, he lost one leg to diabetes and then another. He was in constant pain from his back. Still he wouldn’t give in. Even after Verilyn died, he was determined to live out the rest of his days as best he could. Finally, on January 7, at age 75, Ernie’s hard, strange life caught up with him, and he died at home—17 years after walking off death row. His death certificate read “natural causes.” You might say that, considering all he was up against, he was lucky to make it as long as he did. But the truth is Ernie made his own luck. He worked hard to live as long as he did. I got to know Ernie in 2002 when I was doing a long piece on capital punishment for Texas Monthly. His story was unbelievable. In his younger days, Ernie had been a tall (six foot three), soft-spoken, hardheaded, good-looking roughneck who spent his days as a tool pusher in the oil fields of eastern New Mexico and West Texas—and his nights chasing a good time. When he got in trouble it was because of his drinking; his entire criminal record involved three DWIs, a couple of obscene phone calls, and one naked visit to the drive-through window of a fast-food restaurant.

Slate - October 19, 2021

The 20-lane highway Texas wants to force through Austin

SHARE COMMENT Austin, Texas, is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and that sense of momentum is keenly felt in every restaurant opening, every bidding war, every traffic jam. With that in mind, Austin residents last year voted to hike property taxes to fund Project Connect, a $7.1 billion grid of light rail trains and bus rapid transit across the city. “We must acknowledge that major transportation investments in our past have done more to deepen inequality, to segregate rather than connect, to displace rather than benefit,” Mayor Steve Adler said in his State of the City address last summer, endorsing the mass-transit referendum. “We must learn from that painful past and ensure we do not repeat those injustices.” Adler might well have been alluding to Interstate 35, the north-south highway that runs through downtown Austin. Built on top of tree-lined East Avenue, the road opened in 1962, cutting off Black and Mexican American East Austin from Downtown. Like urban renewal projects in other American cities, the road’s destructive legacy has recently been reconsidered in racial terms.

But unlike with similar projects in Syracuse and New Haven, the question in Austin is not how to tear down the highway but how to expand it. Those cities are not growing; Austin is. Just as the Texas capital embarks on its generational transit investment, the state is planning to spend almost $5 billion to expand eight miles of I-35 through downtown to a whopping 20 lanes wide. Four new “managed lanes” (for high-occupancy vehicles or other restricted uses) will join the main lanes and frontage roads, stretching the highway’s width to nearly 600 feet in places, and erasing almost 150 properties. With their latticework of ramps, bypass lanes, and flyovers, the blueprints have the look of one of those historical timelines that shows warring empires dividing and combining in endless permutations. It’s a testament to America’s highway designers that this tangle, hard to follow with one finger, will one day be navigable at 70 miles per hour. If you’re thinking this neighborhood-eating highway expansion sounds a little incongruous for a proudly progressive city in 2021, you’re right. Like in Houston, which has won temporary reprieve from a similar project, Austin’s local politicians are almost uniformly displeased with the plans from the Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT.

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2021

Sen. Ted Cruz files bill to send migrants to Martha's Vineyard, other coastal cities

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has filed a bill to establish ports of entry in Martha’s Vineyard, Palo Alto, Calif., and other coastal cities, a bit of legislative trolling that the Texas Republican says is an effort to “alleviate the massive overload at the southern border by establishing new ports of entry in Democrat-led communities.” The bill — a messaging effort unlikely to go far in the Democratic-led Congress — would direct the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to transfer migrants from Texas border towns to 13 new ports of entry, including Cambridge, Mass., home to Harvard University, and Rehobeth Beach, Del., a regular vacation spot for President Joe Biden.

“If Washington Democrats had to endure even a fraction of the suffering South Texas families, farmers, ranchers, and small businesses have had to face, our nation’s immigration laws would be enforced, the wall would be built, and the Remain in Mexico policy would be re-implemented,” said Cruz, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill is the latest example of Cruz and other Republicans seeking to keep the spotlight on the southern border, where federal officials have posted unprecedented numbers of encounters with migrants for much of this year. Biden has said he is working to rebuild an immigration system left in shambles by former President Donald Trump, while Republicans say he refuses to take the issue seriously. Democrats were quick to pan Cruz’s bill. U.S. Rep. Bill Keating, a Massachusetts Democrat whose district includes Nantucket, another city that Cruz would target, called it a “lame political stunt.” “Why is it that whenever Ted Cruz is facing a crisis in Texas, his mind seems to wander to vacation destinations?” Keating tweeted. “First it was Cancun, now it’s Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard.” Cruz drew national attention when he flew to Cancun, Mexico during the winter freeze that paralyzed the state last February.

KXAN - October 19, 2021

Texas State Guard accused of ‘fat shaming,’ inconsistent weight rules

A high-ranking officer with the Texas State Guard was given the boot, because she was deemed too heavy, emails show — even though other members in the same physical shape or heavier were allowed to stay, a KXAN investigation found. “I don’t understand why they’re kicking out people that gained weight?” said Lt. Col. Cendy Brister-Antley. “Are we suddenly less intelligent, because we gained weight?” After nearly 13 years in the Texas State Guard, Brister-Antley was booted from her volunteer desk job, emails show, because of her weight. A nurse and administration officer, she joined because she felt it was a calling and duty to serve our state. “I was only the second female to be a regimental plans and operations officer,” she said. From providing emergency and disaster relief to patrolling the border, the Texas State Guard is a non-combat volunteer force, without law enforcement authority, whose motto is: “Texans Serving Texans.”

Now, Brister-Antley, a Georgetown resident, feels the State Guard isn’t serving her and other overweight service members. She reached out to KXAN saying she was “fat shamed” and forced out. She’s pushing for a policy change, accusing the State Guard of selectively following its own rules. KXAN met Brister-Antley outside of Camp Mabry in Austin, which is home to the Texas Military Department and the Texas State Guard, where she used to work. “We didn’t get paid for it,” she said, noting for a time she drove five hours one way to Midland just to volunteer her time. “So, my question is: Why are they kicking out volunteers?” she asked. Despite receiving honors and praise for her intellect, she was let go because her body mass index was too high, records show. At the time, she was 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighed 263 pounds. The State Guard calculated her BMI, which is used to determine obesity, as 40. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies anything above 30 as obese. A BMI of 40 or greater is considered “severe,” according to the CDC and triggers an automatic honorable discharge, according to State Guard policy.

Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2021

Lawsuit claims developer Bill Hutchinson gave Texas woman incurable STD during sexual assaults

Another woman has sued William Lewald “Bill” Hutchinson, alleging that the Dallas-area developer sexually assaulted her on two occasions last year and gave her a sexually transmitted disease. The allegations were added to a lawsuit filed in July by a McLennan County woman who said Hutchinson, 63, sexually assaulted her in June 2020. The initial accuser, referred to as Jane Doe 1, expressed interest in a professional relationship with Hutchinson and repeatedly told him “no” before he assaulted her, the lawsuit says. The amended lawsuit, filed Wednesday in Dallas County, names Hutchinson, Dunhill Apartments, real-estate firm Dunhill Partners and Virgin Hotels Dallas as defendants. Both women are seeking damages of more than $1 million.

An attorney for Hutchinson denied the allegations and questioned the new accuser’s motives. “Bill is guilty of one thing: putting himself in the limelight,” Levi McCathern said in a written statement. “Anyone who takes the time to read the ‘facts’ as recited by the anonymous Jane Doe can see they are just total malarkey. The new allegations are a complete fabrication … solely to extract money from Bill Hutchinson.” Representatives with Dunhill Apartments, Dunhill Partners and Virgin Hotels Dallas did not immediately return requests for comment. Attorney Michelle Simpson Tuegel, who is representing the second accuser, said the woman tried to block out her experience and was initially afraid to take legal action because of Hutchinson’s wealth and status. “It is very common for a woman who has been raped to try and block out the experience, using denial to just put the pain behind her so she can go about her life,” Simpson Tuegel said in a written statement. “But after Hutchinson raped this young woman a second time, and also gave her an STD, that denial eventually came crashing down. Fortunately, she reached out for help, and we intend to bring Hutchinson to justice, on behalf of every single one of his many victims.”

Dallas Morning News - October 22, 2021

Allen ISD parents refile mask mandate lawsuit, adding McKinney ISD, TEA as defendants

An attorney representing parents in Allen ISD refiled a federal civil rights lawsuit today over their school district’s lack of a mask mandate, adding the parents as plaintiffs to a lawsuit originally filed late last month against Frisco ISD, Lago Vista ISD, Hurst-Euless-Bedford ISD and Grapevine-Colleyville ISD. The amended complaint — filed in U.S. district court in the Western District of Texas instead of the Eastern District, as it was at first, adds three defendants: the Texas Education Agency, McKinney ISD and Tomball ISD, in the Houston suburbs. The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction that, if successful, would require the Texas Education Agency to adhere to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for all the districts named in the case — including universal masking.

The change of venue means that instead of receiving a ruling in the Eastern District from U.S. District Judge Sean Jordan, who was initially assigned to the case, the lawsuit will be heard by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman. Jordan was nominated by a Republican, former President Donald Trump, and Pitman was nominated by former President Barack Obama, a Democrat. Allen ISD said in a prepared statement late Thursday that the plaintiffs’ attorney, Martin Cirkiel, is “forum shopping” — or choosing to file in a court that will treat the lawsuit’s claims more favorably. “Once again, this process will cost Allen ISD considerable man hours and legal fees to defend itself in court,” the statement read. The district also said it would continue to follow its COVID-19 safety procedures “that have resulted in low active case rates,” of 0.16% of the student population. Cirkiel, McKinney ISD and the Texas Education Agency did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Allen ISD parents dropped their original civil rights lawsuit two weeks ago, after Jordan denied their request for a temporary restraining order against the school district. He had not yet ruled on a permanent injunction. Officials said the district has already spent tens of thousands of dollars defending the suit. “To hear the AISD lawyers argue they don’t have a legal duty to protect our kids from other kids really shocked and hurt me,” Therissa Grefsrud, a district parent named in the lawsuit, said after the first hearing in early October.

San Antonio Express-News - October 21, 2021

Elaine Ayala: Did San Antonio's population really decline in one year?

Nowhere more than in states like Texas were results of the 2020 Census likely to fuel debates and legal challenges. Texas Republicans have redrawn congressional maps that don’t reflect population shifts as much as their tenuous grip on power. A number of lawsuits already have been filed accusing them of producing maps that discriminate against communities of color and violate the Voting Rights Act. In the meantime, the accuracy of the census data is in question. Every census has the potential to produce an overcount or an undercount, more likely the latter. But in 2020, the stars were aligned against a count conducted during a pandemic and under the Trump administration. The adminstration cut short the census timeline and attempted to add a citizenship question, against a constitutional requirement to count all people residing in the country. The census still delivered the expected data, showing the U.S. population grew as did Texas, Bexar County and San Antonio.

But an analysis by demographer Rogelio Sáenz of the University of Texas at San Antonio shows the bureau was way off in either 2020 or 2019. The American Community Survey, or ACS, a highly regarded demographic instrument, estimated San Antonio’s population in 2019 at 1,547,250. One year later, the census counted 1,434,625, or 112,625 fewer people, a 7.3 percent decline in San Antonio’s population. It sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Sáenz looked at national counts, in which the bureau estimated 328.2 million people in the country in 2019 and 331.4 million in 2020, a 1 percent increase. In Texas, the 2019 survey estimated 28.9 million people in the state, while the 2020 Census counted 29.1 million, a difference of 149,624, up 0.5 percent. Sáenz also looked at eight Texas communities: four big cities (Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin) and four border cities (El Paso, Laredo, Brownsville and McAllen).

City Stories

Washington Post - October 21, 2021

Magnolia ISD sued over ban on boys having long hair

School officials in Texas forced a 9-year-old boy to serve an in-school suspension for a month, deprived him of recess and normal lunch breaks, and banished him from campus to an alternative school — all to pressure the fourth-grader into getting a haircut, a new lawsuit says. Still, the boy refused to obey what he believes is an unjust school policy that bans boys from having long hair. The boy, identified as A.C. in court documents, is one of seven students suing a Texas school district for what they call a discriminatory policy that requires boys to wear short hair. The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas filed the federal lawsuit Thursday on the students’ behalf against the Magnolia Independent School District, which serves some 13,000 students about 40 miles northwest of Houston. The students, aged 7 to 17, allege that the district’s policy prohibiting boys from wearing long hair is based on gender stereotypes that violate the Constitution. They say administrators apply it unevenly, allowing some boys to wear long hair that violates the district’s grooming standards while punishing others. Those suing the district said that punishment has caused them “immense and irreparable harm.”

“We have warned the district repeatedly that its gender-based hair policy violates the Constitution, but the district continues to derail students’ lives and deny their right to a public education free from discrimination,” Brian Klosterboer, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, said in a statement provided to The Washington Post. The rule requires that male students’ hair must be “no longer than the bottom of a dress shirt collar, bottom of the ear, and out of the eyes,” the district’s handbook states. Denise Meyers, a spokeswoman for the district, said officials are reviewing the lawsuit’s claims. She said the district has heard from “a small group of parents” raising questions about the dress and grooming standards and was considering their complaints. She also defended the policy and said it was similar to policies in place for about half of Texas public school districts. “Like hundreds of public school districts in Texas and across the country, MISD’s rules for dress and grooming distinguish between male and female dress and grooming standards,” Meyers said. “This system of differentiated dress and grooming standards have been affirmed by courts and does not inhibit equal access to educational opportunities under Title IX.”

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2021

Activists seek suspension of Oak Ridge principal over 'Dr. Dre' comments

Community activists have asked the Conroe ISD board to suspend Oak Ridge High School Principal AJ LiVecchi over comments he made to students of color regarding a 90s themed day. The local activists used public comment at the board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday night to share their concerns. The board cannot address public comments unless the item they are discussing is already on the agenda, so the trustees gave no response to the activists Tuesday night. “Conroe ISD is committed to providing a learning environment that is welcoming and safe for all students at all campuses,” CISD spokesperson Sarah Blakelock said.

Last month, students at Oak Ridge High School organized a Throwback Thursday where they dressed up in 90s inspired apparel. Some students even borrowed their parent's clothes for the day. The morning of the Throwback Thursday students met at a gathering space in the school called The Pit to take photos before classes started. Students at Oak Ridge who were at The Pit and participated in the day said that while students did get loud, there was no violence, fights, or misconduct. But in response, teachers and members of the school administration reacted with hostility. “Throughout the day teachers had something to say about it, they would push on us to go to class, put their hands on us,” Oak Ridge sophomore Mixon Vessel told the Courier. “So, emotions were high.” A video of Principal LiVecchi addressing members of the student council about the Throwback Thursday made its way around the school the next day. “If this stuff happens again we’re going to operate like we’re in Aldine ISD or HISD, be on lock-down and get metal detectors, all that crap, because this is not how we roll,” LiVecchi is heard saying in the video. “It’s embarrassing, it’s frustrating, we got people posing for pictures looking like they’re from Dr. Dre in the 90s.” In response, students held a sit-in protest at The Pit the next week. Students present at the protest, including Vessel, say they were spat on, called racial slurs, and harassed by other students. They chose a peaceful protest, Vessel said, to counter the implication from their principal's words.

National Stories

Washington Post - October 22, 2021

Democrats brace for cuts to paid leave program as they whittle down Biden economic package

When President Biden unveiled his political blueprint to aid workers and families this spring, he took special care to emphasize one of its key components: a proposal to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for most Americans. But six months later Democrats are discussing significant cuts to that approach — a reflection of the challenge they now face in whittling their once-vast spending ambitions down to size. For Democrats, the fate of their plans to expand wide swaths of the federal safety net hangs in the balance this week as they map out the future of Biden’s economic agenda. Once envisioned as a $3.5 trillion package to overhaul health care, education, climate and tax laws, Democrats instead have found themselves racing to dial it back — perhaps by as much as half — to satisfy spending-weary moderate lawmakers among their ranks. The deep cuts are bound to affect practically every program, even those that are popular across Democrats’ warring factions or have not been specifically targeted by the Senate’s two centrist holdouts, Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

That includes some of Biden’s more popular initiatives, including his proposal to provide millions of Americans with paid-leave benefits if they are ill, caring for a loved one or tending to a new child. In private meetings with Democrats on Capitol Hill over the past week, including one late Wednesday, White House officials have put forward a cost-cutting alternative. They pitched a new, roughly $100 billion plan that would offer four weeks of paid parental, family and sick leave beginning in 2024, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the conversations. The program would be smaller in size and shorter in duration than what House Democrats unveiled earlier this year, and it would not be authorized on a permanent basis, these people said, though they cautioned that the details are subject to rapidly changing talks and could still evolve. The idea has provoked mixed reactions among Democrats. On one hand, some lawmakers this week have reacted angrily at the mere prospect they could cut down an initiative that many say is essential in the aftermath of a pandemic that had its greatest effects on women and caregivers. “It’s not in stone,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Thursday. “That’s still being hotly, hotly debated.” At the same time, however, Democrats have acknowledged the current political reality: A scaled-back, four-week program is still a significant investment that’s far better than adopting nothing at all. Still, some lawmakers and advocates in recent days have told the White House that they plan to continue pushing for additional spending, illustrating that the fight might not be finished.

CNN - October 22, 2021

Biden returns to retail politics to rescue his biggest deal yet

Joe Biden, showing candor and good humor, on Thursday reminded America why it picked him as President in a dark hour of crisis. But, at a CNN town hall in Baltimore, he also showed his tendency to send his own White House into emergency damage control as he flipped set-in-stone policy off the cuff, and offered gaping openings for his Republican foes. Heading into the prime-time event, the President needed to stabilize a White House that seemed overtaken by events several times in recent months -- from the Covid-19 Delta variant surge to the Afghanistan withdrawal. It was vital for him to recapture the impression of competence that resonated from his presidential campaign at a time when then-President Donald Trump was bungling the fight against Covid-19.

Overall, Biden appeared to do his stalled Washington agenda considerable good, and completed some handy repair work on a presidential image badly scarred by a wretched summer that dented his approval ratings. The President also kindled the hopes of liberals by suggesting an openness in the future to amending the Senate filibuster rule, which Republicans use to strangle the most sweeping Democratic reform measures. He did detonate new controversies over China and on the administration's blind spot over record arrivals of undocumented migrants at the southern border and he raised new questions about his command of a supply chain crunch. But at its most basic level, presidential politics is about character. Successful presidents must show control, authenticity and empathy for the struggles of the people that they lead. Biden came across as humble, decent and humane -- in his element with the audience. His self-deprecation was in stark contrast to the constantly boastful persona and raging victim-complex of his predecessor and was one of the keys to why he beat Trump last year. Biden also made a somewhat belated effort to sell the country on his infrastructure and social spending agenda, with which much of the nation is largely unfamiliar. After days of behind-closed-doors negotiations, he gave a fascinating glimpse into the tough negotiations and painful compromises that will have to be made to pass the measures. He put meat on plans for social care spending, and explained why free community college and vision insurance might be dropped in order to build a majority to pass the measure.

Wall Street Journal - October 21, 2021

Inflation is approaching a tipping point at the grocery store

Confident consumers have swallowed higher supermarket prices so far this year, but the risk of indigestion is growing. For companies that make staple goods, asking for more money is delicate. On Wednesday, the world’s biggest food company Nestlé said sales increased by an impressive 6.5% in the third quarter compared with the same period last year. Demand for its products is strong and Nestlé has been able to pass on the higher cost of inputs such as plastic and transport to shoppers, a sign of healthy pricing power. The company’s shares were up 3% in early trading.

Nestlé’s costs of goods sold will increase by around 4% this year, meaning it will shell out an extra 1.8 billion Swiss Francs, equivalent to $1.95 billion, on everything from packaging to trucking. Dannon yogurt-maker Danone said Tuesday that its input costs will be 8% higher this year. The difference can probably be explained by what the two companies sell. Nestlé has a big coffee business where hedges have protected it from spiraling commodity costs, although these will roll off soon. Inflation is now so hot that staples companies feel they have no option but to pass it on. Nestlé, Danone and Procter & Gamble all said this week that consumers can expect higher bills at the grocery store. The question is how far they can push before shoppers defect to cheaper brands or buy fewer items. As a rule of thumb, price increases above 5% are harder to implement without changing buying patterns, according to supermarket and consumer goods executives. There are caveats: Companies that make more premium brands, such as Nestlé’s Nespresso coffee, have extra wiggle room. And consumers are less reactive to price changes in some countries than in others.

Axios - October 22, 2021

Southwest Airlines lost $75 million amid mass flight cancellation

Southwest Airlines announced on Thursday that flight cancellations this month cost the company $75 million. Driving the news: The company said it will cut back on flights in December to avoid a similar situation happening again and will plan next year's schedule based on "more conservative staffing assumptions." "We are aggressively hiring to a goal of approximately 5,000 new Employees by the end of this year, and we are currently more than halfway toward that goal," CEO and Chairman of Southwest Gary Kelly said in a release.

Southwest cancelled more than 1,000 flights in the span of a few days earlier this month due to "operational challenges." The cancellations started with a bad weather issue in Florida but escalated due to staffing issues, according to the Wall Street Journal. Details: The $75 million was a result of the cancellations, customer refunds, and "gestures of goodwill," per the press release. Despite this their plans remain unchanged as far as their schedule for the rest of the month, citing "recent improvement in travel demand trends" that would offset any of the problems moving forward. What they're saying: "[While] there are lingering effects from the summer COVID-19 surge and recent operational challenges, we are encouraged with renewed momentum in leisure and business traffic, revenues, and bookings—especially over the holidays," Kelly said.

Associated Press - October 22, 2021

Report: Far-right anti-government group grows significantly

A far-right group launched by anti-government activist Ammon Bundy is rapidly expanding nationwide and making inroads into Canada, according to a new report from the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. The quick growth happened despite legal problems faced by some prominent People’s Rights leaders, and continued even as some of the organization’s Facebook groups were removed from the social media platform. The organization has grown by roughly 53% in the past year in large part because of continued anti-public health sentiment, according to the report. People’s Rights started in deep-red Idaho, which remains one of the least-vaccinated states with only about 43% of its population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The group now includes activists in 38 states, according to the report.

“I think the report underestimates their overall strength, because they’ve also built out alliances with a range of groups from the Tea Party to the Proud Boys and anti-vax groups,” said Chuck Tanner, IREHR’s research director. “In certain places they are able to mobilize at levels that make an impact on policy.” People’s Rights started in 2020 amid a wave of backlash against public health measures taken at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Started by Bundy — who is best known for leading a group of armed activists in the occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016, and now is one of many candidates running in Idaho’s gubernatorial race — the group frequently staged protests at public health districts, state Capitol buildings, schools and public officials’ homes. The IREHR report analyzed internal membership data from the People’s Rights network. Bundy did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left by The Associated Press. Last year, the organization had just under 22,000 members nationally, according to a report by IREHR and the Montana Human Right’s Network. Now it has grown by roughly 53%, according to the new IREHR report, with more than 33,000 members including nearly 400 official leaders in 38 states. It also includes more than 100 members in Canada — largely in Ontario — even though most of its political ideology centers on fringe interpretations of the U.S. Constitution and Christian nationalism, according to the report.

New York Times - October 21, 2021

Calling Kyrsten Sinema an obstacle to progress, 5 veterans quit her advisory council

Five veterans tapped to advise Senator Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, resigned from their posts on Thursday, publicly accusing her of “hanging your constituents out to dry” in the latest sign of growing hostility toward a centrist who has emerged as a key holdout on President Biden’s agenda. In a scathing letter obtained by The New York Times, the veterans took Ms. Sinema to task for her refusal to abolish the filibuster and her opposition to parts of Mr. Biden’s multitrillion-dollar social safety net, education, climate and tax plan, stances that have stymied some of his top priorities. “You have become one of the principal obstacles to progress, answering to big donors rather than your own people,” the veterans wrote in a letter that is to be featured in a new advertisement by Common Defense, a progressive veterans’ activist group that has targeted Ms. Sinema.

“We shouldn’t have to buy representation from you, and your failure to stand by your people and see their urgent needs is alarming,” they added. The resignations add to a crescendo of anger and pressure that Ms. Sinema is facing from erstwhile allies who say they are perplexed by her recent tactics. She has resisted major elements of Democrats’ sprawling social safety net and climate bill, including raising individual income and corporate tax rates to pay for it. Because Democrats control the Senate with only 50 votes, even one defection could spell defeat for the measure, giving Ms. Sinema outsize influence to determine what can be included. Ms. Sinema has also steadfastly opposed changing the Senate’s filibuster rule, which effectively requires 60 votes to move forward on any major bill, even as Republicans have used it as a procedural weapon to block voting rights legislation and a bill to avert a federal debt default. Progressive activists have stepped up their campaign to push Democrats to do away with the rule so they can muscle Mr. Biden’s priorities through Congress on simple majority votes, and they have trained their anger on Ms. Sinema and another centrist holdout, Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. But while Mr. Manchin hails from a conservative state where he is unlikely to pay a price for breaking with Mr. Biden, Ms. Sinema’s stances have earned her a backlash from onetime supporters in a politically competitive state that is roughly split among Republicans, Democrats and independents. The veterans who are making a public divorce from her on Thursday have sat on Ms. Sinema’s advisory council since 2019, as part of a group of 20 she selected as her office’s liaison to the Arizona service member community.

Religion News Service - October 20, 2021

Inside the fraught effort to create a Christian nationalist internet

It was late September when Andrew Torba, founder of the social media platform Gab, tapped out a message to his users declaring the website would update its online infrastructure. Upgrades are common in the tech industry, but Torba’s reasoning for expanding Gab’s data center was anything but: He wanted to touch up the tech, he said, to “preserve a parallel Christian society on the internet for generations to come.” “One day our great grandchildren will learn what really happened during the greatest Spiritual war of our time,” Torba wrote, “and how we laid the foundations for a new parallel Christian society. It is my intention that they do so on Gab.”

Bearded and given to baseball hats pulled low on his brow, Torba, who has described himself as a “conservative Republican Christian,” long ago exiled himself from Silicon Valley. He now lives, he says, in a “forest in Pennsylvania,” where he is plotting what he calls a “Silent Christian Secession.” His dream is one that resonates with seemingly millions of other primarily right-wing netizens who frequent his site and other sites like Natural News, Brighteon and CloutHub — online clones of larger social media platforms that tout themselves as havens of free speech in an internet that has begun (belatedly, according to some) to police conspiracy theorists, right-wing militias, white supremacists and Christian nationalists. These sites have much the same mix of cartoons, memes and raucous political debates as Twitter or Facebook. Many of their mission statements — “empowering individuals to connect and solve issues they care about,” goes CloutHub’s — wouldn’t look out of place anywhere else on the social web.

October 21, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 21, 2021

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants fourth special session for election audit, higher penalties for illegal voting

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick wants Gov. Greg Abbott to call lawmakers back to Austin for a fourth special legislative session, this time to tackle two election-related measures that did not pass during prior sessions this year. The third special session ended Tuesday, with most of Abbott's agenda items adopted. Patrick called it a "strong conservative session" in a Wednesday tweet, but he said lawmakers need another opportunity to pass a bill increasing penalties for illegal voting and legislation authorizing a forensic election audit — a priority of former President Donald Trump. "More needs to be done," Patrick said. "I support (Abbott) calling us back to pass both."

Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze responded to Patrick's tweet in a statement and said there is no need for a fourth special session. “Texans tasked the Legislature with delivering on key priorities for the state in this most recent special session, including property tax relief, redistricting, and the nearly $16 billion American Rescue Plan Act funding, and we went above and beyond to deliver on these priorities as well as solve other critical issues for Texas," she said. "Because of the Texas House and Senate’s efforts to get these priorities across the finish line, there is no need for another special session at this time.” The Legislature meets every odd-numbered year for regular 140-day sessions, during which senators and House members can pass legislation on any subject. The governor has the authority to call lawmakers back to Austin for special sessions that can last no longer than 30 days, with limited agendas. During a special session, lawmakers can only pass bills related to items on the governor's call.

Associated Press - October 21, 2021

‘The stakes are enormous’: Bannon case tests Congress’ power

The U.S. House is expected to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. It’s up to the Justice Department, and the courts, to determine what happens next. As lawmakers ready a Thursday vote to send a contempt referral to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, there’s considerable uncertainty about whether the Justice Department will prosecute Bannon for refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, despite Democratic demands for action. The outcome could determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation, but the strength of Congress’ power to call witnesses and demand information — factors that will certainly be weighing on Justice officials as they determine whether to move forward. While the department has historically been reticent to use its prosecution power against witnesses found in contempt of Congress, the circumstances are exceptional as lawmakers investigate the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries.

If Congress can’t perform its oversight job, the message sent to “the general public is these subpoenas are a joke,” said Stephen Saltzburg, a George Washington University law professor and former Justice Department official. He said if Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former federal judge whom Saltzburg regards “as one of the most nonpartisan people I know,” doesn’t authorize a prosecution, “he’s going to be letting the Constitution, it seems to me, be placed in jeopardy. And it’s way too important for him to let that happen.” Democrats are pressuring Justice to take the case, arguing that nothing less than democracy is at stake. “The stakes are enormous,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the panel. “The Congress of the United States under Article One has the power to investigate in order to inform our deliberations about how to legislate going forward. That’s what this is about.” Still, prosecution is not a given. Assuming his post after a turbulent Trump era, Garland has prioritized restoring what he has called “the norms” of the department. On his first day, he told rank-and-file prosecutors that they should be focused on equal justice and not feel pressure to protect the president’s allies or to attack his enemies. He has repeatedly said political considerations shouldn’t play a role in any decisions.

USA Today - October 21, 2021

Donald Trump announces new social media platform, Truth Social, after being banned from major apps

Former President Donald Trump announced Wednesday he plans to launch his own social media platform called Truth Social, after he has been banned from several other popular social media sites. In a press release, the Trump Media and Technology Group said it has entered a merger with Digital World Acquisition Corp. to become a publicly listed company, with Trump as its chairman. "I am excited to send out my first TRUTH on TRUTH Social very soon. TMTG was founded with a mission to give a voice to all," Trump said in the statement.

Trump was banned from the biggest social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — after his supporters stormed the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, over concerns that his continued presence on social media would incite more violence. YouTube said its ban would be lifted after the "risk of violence" decreases, Facebook said Trump could come back to the platform at the soonest in 2023 and Twitter said its ban would be permanent. Trump said in his statement Wednesday that Truth Social would "stand up to the tyranny of Big Tech." The platform will be available through an app on the Apple Store as a beta version for trial by "invited guests" in November and the company expects a full rollout in the first quarter of 2022. Trump Media and Technology Group also plans to launch a video on demand service, TMTG+, to feature "non-woke" content, it said. Trump and his network have been building up to the release of his own platform, which he hinted at earlier this year. In the past he had a large presence on Twitter, where he launched attacks against critics and broke news about his administration. Since his absence from the major social media sites, Trump has sent a constant stream of press releases with tweet-like statements to the media and supporters.

Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2021

Backlash over books about race, gender hits Texas schools

On the floor of the Legislature, lawmakers brandished a small picture book. Republican legislators’ sudden interest in the title – Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness – appeared to stem from complaints from Highland Park families. Texas lawmakers touted the book -- a story about racial justice and racism told from a white child’s perspective -- as justification for a vague new state law that restricts how teachers can discuss racism and “controversial” topics in the classroom. Since the law went into effect last month, parents across the state have successfully campaigned against several books and questioned curriculum that delves into challenging subjects, including those addressing social justice and LGBTQ issues. “We’ve been observing a growing number of challenges to books about racial injustice, Black American history, and the lived experience of Black, indigenous and persons of color,” said Deborah Caldwell-Stone, the director of the American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom.

In Richardson ISD, a mother’s testimony during a school board meeting went viral across social media. She took issue with a list of book club options available to her daughter’s eighth grade class and read a passage to trustees that included descriptions of sexual assault. School officials responded by “pausing” classroom activities that involve teacher-selected book options to make sure they can be vetted. In a Houston-area district, parent concerns led to a cancelled -- now rescheduled -- event with the author of an award-winning book told from the perspective of a Black student going to a mostly white school. Also in that area, a school system banned from its elementary school libraries a graphic novel featuring a transgender character. And recently, Carroll ISD trustees voted to reprimand a teacher after parents complained a fourth grade student brought This Book is Anti-Racist home. Education advocates and librarians worry about the power these complaints will have on students’ access to literature, especially as schools work to make their reading materials more diverse and inclusive. Teachers say curriculum and books that reflect students’ identities are essential to keeping them interested in learning.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2021

Scholars, medical groups and former prosecutors file Supreme Court briefs against Texas abortion law

Filings continued rolling in Tuesday ahead of Thursday’s U.S. Supreme Court deadline for submitting briefs in the federal government’s challenge to Texas’ new abortion law, and opponents have dominated the filings so far. When the Department of Justice filed an emergency application on Monday asking the Supreme Court to halt enforcement of Texas’ six-week abortion ban, the court gave Texas until noon ET Thursday to respond to the request. In the meantime, interested parties are submitting briefs that provide additional information or insight to try to sway court justices. These briefs, known as amicus briefs, are submitted by “friends of the court,” typically a person or group who is not involved in the legal action itself but has a strong interest in the matter. The DOJ, acting on behalf of the Biden administration, is seeking to convince the court to block enforcement of Texas’ abortion law, known as Senate Bill 8, until federal courts sort out its legality.

As of Tuesday afternoon, eight groups had moved to file an amicus brief regarding the case — and none of them were filed in support of Texas’ new law, considered the toughest restrictions in the nation. A brief was filed Tuesday afternoon on behalf of nearly 120 current and former prosecutors and law enforcement leaders, and former state attorneys general, federal and state court judges, U.S. attorneys and U.S. Department of Justice officials. These officials “believe that if Senate Bill 8 … is permitted to remain in effect, including while this litigation is pending, it will erode trust in the rule of law and adversely impact the interests of public safety that [these officials] seek to advance,” their brief reads. A group of Planned Parenthood organizations with health centers in Texas, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Nevada submitted an amicus brief on Monday to detail “SB8?s real-life impact on Texas patients being denied, and Planned Parenthood staff who are now prohibited from providing, the abortions patients need.” The brief as a whole is mainly a collection of interviews with people identified only by their initials: “F.P. is a sixteen-year-old student denied an abortion under SB8. She is unsure whether she can travel out-of State”; “D.O. is the single mother of a kindergartener and is balancing work and school. She was just out of a relationship with her daughter’s father who ‘was just really bad … very abusive.’” Legal scholars have also sought to weigh in on the constitutionality of the Texas law with a series of briefs. The Constitutional Accountability Center, a progressive think tank and law firm based in Washington, D.C., filed a brief in support of the Justice Department’s application.

Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2021

Nearly $700,000 stolen from Dallas County jail inmate accounts in debit card scheme; FBI notified

Nearly $700,000 was stolen from Dallas County jail inmate commissary accounts in a scheme involving damaged debit cards, the county auditor said. Now, the investigation has been turned over to the FBI. County auditors presented the results of an internal investigation to the Commissioners Court on Tuesday that showed operational loopholes allowed an employee to produce debit cards from an inmate trust fund. The problems they found in their audit have been fixed through new oversight, they said. Without providing details, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department said in April that it had arrested former clerk Umeka Myers and charged her with property theft. Department spokesman Raul Reyna said Tuesday the arrest was connected to the case but did not provide additional details, saying the federal investigation continues.

Myers was released in lieu of $5,000 bail in April and is awaiting trial. The sheriff’s department said she was fired after her arrest. Inmates at the Dallas County jail are allowed access to commissary money through a trust fund operated by the sheriff’s department. Families and friends of inmates can send money to the commissary accounts for meals and other items. When inmates are released from the jail, they are issued debit cards with the remaining balance. The Dallas Morning News obtained a copy of the county’s audit, which reviewed transactions from January 2015 through March 2021. The report found that 306 debit cards totaling nearly $700,000 were issued from inmate accounts that had been closed, exceeding the department’s trust fund balance. The sheriff’s department commissary fund was over-drafted by more than $85,000 in March 2020, prompting the audit.

Dallas Morning News - October 21, 2021

Dallas officials are worried new census population numbers are incomplete

Several Dallas council members on Wednesday said they’re concerned that despite the 2020 census results showing the city’s population increasing, there could be many who weren’t counted at all. The city doesn’t have an estimate of how many people weren’t included in the latest tally. Dallas is in the beginning stages of its redistricting process, which uses the census numbers to redraw the city’s 14 council districts to allow equal voter representation through evenly populated areas. Dallas’ population grew by 106,563 residents in the last decade to 1.3 million in 2020, census numbers show. With the population increase, boundaries are likely to shift and some residents could find themselves in different council districts. But the rate of Dallas residents who responded to the 2020 census survey online, by phone or mail was 60% — 2% lower than in 2010 when the population was nearly 1.2 million. Response rates in 2020 were also lower at the county, state and national levels.

The count itself faced challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and a proposal from the Trump administration to include a citizenship question that likely deterred some undocumented immigrants from taking part. The issues have fueled concerns of population undercounts around the country. Mayor Eric Johnson noted a recent Washington Post article citing two new analyses that suggest 2 million Black residents nationwide, particularly children, may not be represented in the latest decennial survey. “We know that if they’re not counted, we lose dollars and we can’t provide services,” said council member Carolyn King Arnold, referring to how federal and state aid is often based on population size. Council members asked city staff for an analysis to figure out how many were not potentially counted. But those numbers won’t be reflected in the redistricting process, said Priti Mathur of ARCBridge Consulting, a firm hired by the city to analyze the census numbers and help redraw the districts. She said population numbers include other factors, such as in-person head counts. She acknowledged that undercounts are possible. “These are the numbers that we have and that is what we’re supposed to use,” Mathur said. “The [U.S.] Census Bureau does the best that it can, but this is the process.”

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2021

Delta-8 THC products are illegal in Texas, updated health department website says

The Texas Department of State Health Services updated its website Friday with the clarification that delta-8 THC products — which many thought were legal under the 2018 federal Farm Bill — are still considered a controlled substance in Texas. A notice on the Consumable Hemp Program page now reads: “All other forms of THC, including Delta 8 in any concentration and Delta 9 exceeding 0.3%, are considered Schedule I controlled substances.” House Bill 1325, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in 2019, legalized hemp products under 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). A day before the change, The Dallas Morning News published a story about the product many thought was legal in Texas, or at least in a “gray area,” Kim Augsburger, who owns CBD American Shaman in College Station, told local station KBTX-TV.

Delta-8 is a cannabinoid that is extracted from cannabis plants, most often coming from hemp. It is sold in the form of edible candy, vape cartridges and oil tinctures and is said to produce a “high” similar to that experienced from marijuana. Many North Texas businesses have started advertising the product, including a soon-to-come vape store in Frisco. The product came into wide use under the federal farm bill, which changed the definition of lawful marijuana extracts to those containing “no more than 0.3% delta-9 THC” and legalized hemp products, including delta-8, federally. In May, Stephen Pahl, the Texas health department’s associate commissioner for consumer protection, clarified during the regular legislative session that state law allows Commissioner John Hellerstedt to object to federal drug schedules, including delta-8. The clarification came as a response to House Bill 3948, which was filed by elected officials who believed the product was still legal. “Because of the way the DEA defined a marijuana extract as only delta-9 THC, and because there are compounds, or isomers of THC, that have pharmacological or psychoactive properties, the [Texas] commissioner of health opted to object to those schedules,” Pahl told the committee. “Essentially, what that means is delta-8 still remains on the Schedule 1 drug schedule.”

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2021

From Garden Ridge to New Braunfels, 'Quarry Row' has residents demanding stricter regulation

Growing up in the Texas Hill Country, Mark Friesenhahn would often run barefoot through the countryside with his younger brother — but only if their father, “a 150-pound, mean little banty rooster German, full of the culture and work ethic,” hadn’t assigned them a task on the family farm. Occasionally, the boys would hear a siren warning of an imminent blast at the Servtex Quarry Plant three miles away. “The blast would occur, we’d feel the rumble, and we went back to what we were doing. It was no big deal,” recalled Friesenhahn, now 71. Friesenhahn spent more than four decades at ExxonMobil in Houston as a technical adviser on oil and gas operations. He moved back to his boyhood haunts in 2010 to grow soft-shell pecans on the same land settled by his German ancestors in 1854. Today, Friesenhahn’s inherited slice of the Hill Country is surrounded by “Quarry Row,” a cluster of 11 rock mining operations that stretches for nearly 30 miles along Interstate 35, from the Servtex quarry in Garden Ridge to the Colorado Materials Hunter Plant 2 north of New Braunfels. The proliferation of quarries has altered more than the landscape. It’s changed Friesenhahn’s worldview.

He’s a conservative Republican who made his fortune in the oil and gas industry. He’s long been a believer in free markets, low taxes and light regulation. But living in quarry country has turned him into a leading voice for tighter controls on mining. He co-founded Texans for Responsible Aggregate Mining and regularly testifies at the state Capitol to demand more rigorous oversight of the industry. One morning in June 2020, a farmhand called Friesenhahn to tell him his orchard had been flooded with thick, sediment-laden water — “think cream-colored yogurt that is as gooey as you could possibly imagine.” The source: the neighboring AC Tejas Quarry, operated by Anderson Columbia Co. Inc. Water used to wash rocks was being treated in a sediment pond, and it had overflowed. About 500,000 gallons of water and clay sediment had flowed under a railroad trestle and onto Friesenhahn’s property, covering 15 acres of his orchard to a depth of a foot and a half. He complained to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, triggering an investigation. The agency found the quarry was pumping more water into the pond than it could remove, too much sediment had accumulated and the pond suffered from a “lack of maintenance.” The TCEQ opted not to take samples of the gunk, a decision that bothered the former oilman because it “could have been a toxic material.”

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2021

Michael Taylor: Legislators trading individual stocks is an ethical disaster

Robert Kaplan resigned abruptly last month as president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, on the same day as his Boston counterpart Eric Rosengren. Both cited personal reasons for their unexpected departures, but the public understood them to be a necessary response to a Wall Street Journal investigation of large personal stock trades they’d made during critical moments when the Federal Reserve intervened in markets in response to COVID-induced turbulence. You might see these abrupt resignations as a failure of ethics and governance at the nation’s central bank. But I think that’s the wrong interpretation. Their resignations are actually a success of governance. It's a good sign that the Federal Reserve’s code of ethics — and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell — prompted swift and decisive resignations in response to even the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Powell then promised a further review of ethics rules for Federal Reserve employees, as he should. It matters whether people see the Federal Reserve as an ethical institution. All of this is good and noteworthy. It also serves as our periodic reminder of how awful the governance and ethics rules and practices are for stock trading by members of Congress. In short: They can get away with way too much. They should not be allowed to trade individual stocks. But they do, and they disclose way too little about it, and it’s gross. There is a law, first passed in 2012, called the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge Act of 2012 (STOCK Act). It requires officials to disclose any stock transactions within 45 days of trading. Dozens of members of Congress this year ignored or violated this law with late disclosures. Sometimes, elected officials make no disclosures at all. The penalties under the STOCK Act for these types of violations are tiny — like in the hundreds of dollars. In late September, the ethics watchdog group Campaign Legal Center cited seven members of Congress for massive failures to disclose their stock trades. This is a bipartisan problem. The Campaign Legal Center report named and shamed House representatives Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), Warren Davidson (R-OH), Lance Gooden (R-TX), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Thomas Suozzi (D-NY), Roger Williams (R-TX) and Michael San Nicholas (D-Guam). These seven engaged in hundreds of thousands of dollars in stock trading without reporting them. Five of the seven sit on the House Committee on Financial Services, which seems like a particularly egregious violation of trust.

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2021

Spurs labeled the NBA's 'least watchable team' by USA Today

The Spurs haven’t been getting much love outside the Alamo City lately. After the team was snubbed by rapper Drake, who left it out of his new NBA collection, two major publications have declared the Spurs to be among the league’s most unwatchable teams. In an article posted Monday by USA Today Sports, writer Charles Curtis ranked the Spurs worst in his ranking of least to most watchable NBA teams for the 2021-22 season. Curtis said his issue with the Spurs is that their watchability last year was already “iffy” and claims that they are a worse squad this year. “There are other teams that will be worse in the standings, but I can’t see myself getting excited about a Spurs game this year,” Curtis wrote.

Knowing how dedicated Spurs fans are, Curtis backpedaled a bit, saying that before he gets copious hate-tweets, fans should know he is a huge Dejounte Murray fan and believes he and teammate Keldon Johnson may have breakout seasons. But don’t fret Spurs fans, even Curtis said he isn’t totally sure what his grading system is. He said his ranking is “a very unscientific combination of star power, how much fun it is to watch said team and even some ‘I’ve got to tune in to see if this is gonna be a train wreck’ mixed in.” His most watchable team is the Brooklyn Nets — new home of former Spurs point guard Patty Mills and former Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden. Meanwhile, ESPN writer Zach Lowe ranked the Spurs 27th in its watchability list. In ESPN’s self-proclaimed “dumbest NBA preseason tradition,” teams are scored 1 to 10 in five categories: whether people care about the team, star potential, style, league pass minutia and unintentional comedy. While the Spurs aren’t last by ESPN’s account, the team’s combined score of 22.5 for all five categories is pretty insulting. Lowe, who didn’t break down how the Spurs fared in each category, said the standouts to watch this season are Murray and Johnson, along with shooting guards Lonnie Walker IV, Devin Vassell and Joshua Primo; and power forwards Drew Eubanks and Thaddeus Young. Maybe there’s an anti-Texas bias — the Houston Rockets only beat the Spurs by one spot on both lists.

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2021

Many Texas children miss out on required lead testing, report finds

As volunteers and researchers just begin to document the scope of potential lead poisoning in Texas homes and water pipes, federal authorities say that more than a third of the state’s children from low-income families never receive a test to check for lead in their blood, as required by federal rules. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services inspector general’s report offers the latest evidence that the nation’s problem with lead, which can damage the brain and cause lifelong developmental and behavioral problems in children, may be larger than anyone knows. Researchers have found early indications of a lead problem in Houston’s Fifth Ward, where the neurotoxin has been found in soil and paint and water in homes. The Biden administration estimates Texas has some 270,000 lead water lines, among the most in the nation.

Lead poisoning has emerged as a major environmental justice issue after the Flint, Mich., water crisis began in 2014, when lead seeped into the city’s water after it switched its supply and pipes began to corrode. Lead water pipes are a target of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill moving through Congress. President Joe Biden has vowed to eliminate lead from water, pushing to spend some $45 billion as he claimed there are “hundreds of Flints all across America.” The inspector general’s report found 38 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children in Texas and four other states — California, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania — never received the screenings when they turned one and two years old as required by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the approximately 209,000 children in those states who had been continuously enrolled in Medicaid from birth through age 3, 20 percent never received a screening. In Texas, 212,644 of the 372,776 enrolled children — 57 percent — did not receive a screening at 12 months. More than 266,000 of the 386,846 eligible children — 69 percent — did not receive a screening at 24 months. Of the 8,013 children in Texas continuously enrolled in Medicaid by age three, 2,758 — 34 percent — were never screened, the report found.

Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2021

Fort Bend ISD rebukes trustee accused of questioning employee's sexuality, 'Hitler' name-calling

The Fort Bend ISD school board voted this week to denounce Trustee Denetta Williams and call for her resignation from the board, accusing her of harassing a district employee, violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, deriding constituents on social media and referring to at least two board members as Nazis. Trustees voted 6 to 1 Monday night in favor of a resolution to declare Williams “not fit to hold public office” in response to an investigative report by an outside attorney, which found Williams treated the board’s former executive assistant in an abusive and discriminatory manner. The investigation was prompted by a complaint filed against Williams in June claiming she “created a hostile work environment” with inappropriate behavior including questioning an employee’s sexuality. Williams voted against the resolution.

The resolution also accuses the Position 5 board member, elected in November 2020, of repeatedly misrepresenting district facts, publicly sharing confidential information from closed sessions and violating the Texas Open Meetings Act by sending emails to a quorum of trustees regarding the school system’s operations. The resolution also claims Williams tried to coerce other board members to make the employee’s grievance “go away.” Williams, a real estate broker, denied the allegations during Monday’s meeting and said the employee complaint filed against her was false and retaliatory. She also claimed some of the emails included in the investigation were “falsified.” Williams did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday. According to the resolution, Williams, who defeated incumbent Allison Drew last November, also is accused referring to board president Dave Rosenthal “as Hitler, another trustee as a ‘Nazi,’ staff members as ‘crooks,’ and responding to citizens by calling them ‘toddler brains’ and using “offensive emojis.”

Houston Chronicle - October 21, 2021

How Texans could bolster power grid and save money

Investing in programs that reduce Texans’ energy consumption could cut demand by the same amount of power expected to be generated by a proposed fleet of gas-fired power plants and cost almost 40 percent less, according to a new report. The findings from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a nonprofit, independent research group based in Washington, D.C., show that if the state invested in seven energy efficiency and demand-response programs — like creating incentive programs that encourage homeowners to switch to smart thermostats and heat-pump water heaters — could reach about 9 million Texas households and could slash about 11,400 megawatts of demand in winter months and 7,650 megawatts of demand in the summer. One megawatt is enough electricity to power about 200 homes on a hot summer day.

The study’s authors and other experts have said addressing Texas’ soaring demand for electricity will be crucial to make the state’s grid more stable and less susceptible to outages like those seen during the February freeze. Texas consumes much more electricity than any other state, using more than 429.3 million megawatt hours in 2019, the equivalent of 11 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption. Addressing that demand, however, has taken a back seat within the Public Utility Commission's discussions on how to overhaul Texas’ deregulated power market to improve grid reliability, said Alison Silverstein, an Austin-based energy consultant who worked for the PUC from 1995 to 2001 and with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from 2001 to 2004. She said commissioners have been “in a super hurry” to come up with a market overhaul before the coldest parts of the coming winter. Commissioners are expected to unveil a blueprint of the market redesign this month.

Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Democrats no better at controlling health costs, Big Pharma wins again

President Joe Biden’s administration is proving itself no more capable of slowing rapid inflation in health care than the previous team. Our premiums, co-pays, deductibles and taxes will continue to rise faster than our income or the national economy. Staying healthy will consume a higher proportion of our income as long as the current system remains in place. Some Democratic lawmakers are firmly in the pocket of Big Pharma and blocking Biden’s attempt to curtail the industry’s profiteering. Biden had hoped to help pay for his infrastructure plan by allowing the Center for Medicare Services to negotiate the prices of some drugs and reduce costs by at least $5 billion over 10 years.

New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez has blocked efforts to slow the flood of taxpayer money to his home state’s biggest corporations, including Merck and Johnson & Johnson. He calls them Unamerican price controls, even though Medicare has long negotiated prices paid to physicians and hospitals. Big Pharma only needs one Democrat to derail Biden’s plan in the Senate. But for good measure, three members of the House also voted against the bill in committee, making it clear that negotiated Medicare drug prices will not make it through either chamber. Former President Donald Trump promised to pass a similar measure when he took office. But faced with Republican opposition, his administration settled on trying to make sure Medicare pays the same prices as national health care systems in other wealthy nations. Big Pharma scuttled that plan, too. The pharmaceutical industry argues they need someone to pay high prices to finance new drug development. Since foreign governments, private insurance companies and state-funded Medicaid programs for the poor negotiate steep discounts, drugmakers want Medicare to foot the bill. Meanwhile, Little Pharma keeps sticking it to patients with huge semi-annual price increases on old drugs. Public outrage over price-gouging died down after Turing Pharmaceutical founder Martin Shkreli landed in federal prison, but other companies are following in his footsteps.

Houston Public Media - October 20, 2021

Houston City Council members question a housing program at the center of Mayor Turner’s ethics allegations

The mayor’s office and city housing officials attempted to answer questions about a city-run affordable housing process at the center of ethics allegations against Mayor Sylvester Turner on Tuesday — two weeks after a special committee meeting that largely avoided questions about the mayor’s role. During a Houston City Council housing committee meeting, council members asked city officials about a process referred to as a notice of funding availability, or NOFA, which has been used to select certain housing projects for funding under a federal Harvey recovery program. Former city housing director Tom McCasland accused Turner of trying to use the NOFA process to award $15 million in federal funds to a particular affordable housing developer. Turner has denied the allegations.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Andy Icken — the mayor’s chief development officer — told council members that the Texas General Land Office was performing an analysis of the city’s NOFA process for this latest round of proposals, as well as millions in funding for two previous rounds. That report was originally scheduled to be available on Oct. 15, but has since been delayed, Icken said. “I can't presume what it's going to say at this point,” Icken said of the pending report, “but once we see that, we certainly would want to, after comment on that, share that with council.” A spokeswoman for the GLO, which distributes the federal Harvey relief funds allocated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said the report was delayed because the state agency was still awaiting documents it requested from the city, and that it hoped to issue the report by mid-November. Tuesday’s meeting came roughly two weeks after a three-hour special hearing in which the committee members heard testimony from senior housing officials about expenses incurred by the city Housing and Community Development department under McCasland’s watch.

KIIITV - October 20, 2021

Duval County Judge dies unexpectedly over weekend

According to Duval County Sheriff Romeo Ramirez, Duval County Judge Gilbert Saenz passed away unexpectedly over the weekend, while at a judicial conference near Austin. Ramirez said he was notified by Georgetown officials about the death of Judge Saenz on Saturday. He said two people found Saenz on a hiking trail in Austin and he was said to be in medical distress on the path. The hikers called for an ambulance, however, Saenz was pronounced dead when paramedics arrived. According to the Alice Echo News Journal, Saenz was elected to the position of county judge for Duval County in 2019.

“Still hard to believe that this actually happened to a very young man, very well liked county judge,” Ramirez said. “Someone who was always there for the people. Hard to believe someone who exercises and took care of themselves passed on this like. He will be missed, no doubt and I want to give my condolences to the county and the family most of all.” Ramirez said he traveled to Freer to notify Saenz’ mother and wife about the county judge’s death. The cause of death is being investigated by the Georgetown Police Department. Duval County Attorney Baldemar Gutierrez said Duval County Commissioners will meet at some point to appoint a new county judge.

Fort Worth Report - October 20, 2021

Congresswoman’s daughter-in-law to exit water district

Congresswoman Kay Granger’s daughter-in-law is leaving the Tarrant Regional Water District. Her departure coincides with the board’s efforts to address the community’s complaints about nepotism at the agency. Shanna Cate Granger’s title is placemaking manager. She started working for the water district in 2004, and her last day will be on Nov. 19. She has served on the Panther Island/Central City Flood Project senior management team. That project calls for using federal money to reroute a 1.5-mile stretch of the Trinity River to better manage floods and local money to redevelop an area north of downtown.

Some of her job duties include: Fundraising for and planning all major events there, including the recent Oktoberfest Fort Worth; Directing the third-party venue rental program for the Panther Island Pavilion, where events such as the Water Lantern Festival and the upcoming River and Blues Festival are held; Developing awareness of private real estate opportunities on Panther Island and connecting developers with the appropriate parties to further their plans there; Acting as a liaison between existing businesses on Panther Island, including Coyote Drive-In and Panther Island Brewing, and the water district. Cate Granger could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and the water district did not explain why she was leaving.

MSNBC - October 20, 2021

Katelyn Burns: Texas Republicans are appealing to voters' worst instincts

(Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. She was the first openly transgender Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.) On Sunday, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill banning teenage and adolescent trans girls from playing high school girls sports, after the bill passed the state Senate late last week. It now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for a signature. Texas has also been in recent headlines for its extremely unusual abortion ban that deputizes citizens to enforce the ban instead of the state, a legal end around the Constitution. Federal court judges have either been bewildered at the ploy or have taken a wink-wink, nudge-nudge approach to effectively ending Roe v. Wade. The proximity of these two bills is more meaningful than one might think: Conservatives have been hard at work over the last few years trying to divide the natural solidarity that should exist between feminists and trans people. In introducing bills that disempower both populations, they’re making crucial headway toward that goal.

Texas isn’t alone in targeting trans kids and abortion access. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case over a Mississippi abortion ban on Dec. 1. Reproductive rights activists and court-watchers have speculated that the case could be the death knell for the constitutional right to access an abortion. On the trans side, in 2021 alone, more than 100 anti-trans bills have been introduced on the state level, with 10 becoming law. While we can stand around all day arguing over what should be done with trans kids and adolescents, Republicans' proposed bans on school sports and puberty blockers are extreme solutions to problems that simply don’t exist. The extremism is the point. The anti-trans movement has become an important plank in the conservative culture wars, effectively a copy-paste of the anti-gay-rights movement of the '80s, '90s and early 2000s. The difference between then and now is that the Republican Party has fully committed to seizing and holding on to political power through voter suppression, packing the courts and gerrymandering.

Austin American-Statesman - October 20, 2021

Tesla still not giving many details about HQ move to Austin

Tesla held its third-quarter earnings call with shareholders on Wednesday — but anyone hoping the automaker would provide more details about moving its headquarters to Austin was likely disappointed. Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced on Oct. 7 that Tesla will relocate its corporate headquarters to Austin, but gave few hints as to what that would entail. After Wednesday's earnings report, most of the details still remain a mystery. Company executives did say they still expect production to start at Tesla's $1.1 billion Central Texas manufacturing facility before the end of the year, but said little else about the Austin relocation. The company still has not given a timetable for the move or provided information on where the corporate headquarters will be built, how many employees might be coming to Central Texas or how many jobs might be created.

Musk didn't take part in Tesla's latest earnings call, but company executives confirmed that production at Tesla's Austin facility is still expected to start by the end of the year, on track with previously announced plans. Delivery of any of those vehicles is likely to start next year. “We are also nearing assembly of our first production cars in Austin and Berlin. It's important to stress, while the first production car is an important milestone. The hardest work lies ahead in the ramp-up,” Tesla chief financial officer Zach Kirkhorn said Wednesday. Kirkhorn said that the pace could change, and the company is “pushing the boundaries" on “new products, and manufacturing technologies” at both Austin and Berlin, the company's newest facilities, which makes it difficult to predict exact timing. In a slide presentation for shareholders, the company said the Travis County factory is progressing as planned and in the process of commissioning equipment and fabricating its first pre-production vehicles. The facility is also producing front and rear body castings, which are needed for structural battery pack architecture.

County Stories

Texas Public Radio - October 21, 2021

Bexar County Commissioners abolish a Justice of the Peace seat, hire 2nd jail consultant

Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday voted to abolish the office of Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 2. JP Ciro Rodriguez resigned from the seat in September amid ongoing office tension with Justice of the Peace Precinct 1, Place 1 Robert Tejeda. Rodriguez said much of the trouble was over the distribution of cases in the county's busiest JP Court. No other precincts have two JPs and with the workload diminishing, Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean recommended it be abolished. "It will result in consistent administration of justice, clarification of reporting structure, which is beneficial to staff and will result in efficiency, and annual savings to taxpayers of just under $250,000 annually," she told commissioners. Rodriguez did have a year left in his term and commissioners plan to find a temporary replacement until the term expires.

Bexar County Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved the hiring of an independent jail consulting firm American Correctional Consultants for nearly $20,000. The consultant will examine the Bexar County Adult Detention Center in an effort to reduce the turnover rate among detention deputies and the associated soaring overtime costs that has been running into the tens of millions of dollars in recent years. The commissioners' hire is in addition to Sheriff Javier Salazar's hiring of his own jail consultants. Both consulting groups are expected to make recommendations to reduce those problems. Also during the meeting when members of the public are invited to speak, a local activist for Indigenous peoples told commissioners he is opposed to plans for a Buffalo Soldiers statute at San Pedro Springs Park. Activist Antonio Diaz said the park already has a plaque to mark where some of the African American soldiers trained for frontier service. He said those soldiers played an active role in the war against Indigenous peoples. "They were tool to remove people from our lands, to exterminate our people, to incarcerate us. That is why I oppose it," Diaz said. Commissioner Tommy Calvert defended the history of many of the those in the military outfit. "Many of the Buffalo Soldiers were actually court-martialed because they refused to fight the Native Americans," he told Diaz.

City Stories

Axios - October 20, 2021

Grassroots group raises concerns over Tesla hirings

One grassroots group has raised concerns with Tesla leadership over hiring practices at the company's new Austin gigafactory, urging the car manufacturer to improve opportunities for residents who only speak Spanish. Tesla, which recently announced it will move its headquarters to Austin, will employ at least 5,000 workers at the new plant. The hiring process has already begun, and many of the jobs at the plant require only a high school education. CEO Elon Musk said he doesn't care "if you even graduated high school" to get a job at Tesla. The company listed 364 Austin-based jobs on its website Tuesday.

But Texas Anti-Poverty Project, a group created by Austin Independent School District trustee Ofelia Maldonado Zapata, is worried that Tesla lacks opportunities for Spanish speakers. Tesla officials and Travis County representatives meet with the anti-poverty group once a month to discuss the company's Austin hiring practices, Zapata said. In their second meeting, Tesla representatives said they do not provide bilingual staff to translate for Spanish speakers at the plant. "We all found out — even the county did not know — that [Tesla said] basically, 'We don't hire Spanish speakers,'" Zapata told Axios. "It's like what? How can you build a plant in an area that is high [in] Spanish speakers when they’re probably the ones building the plant." Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered Tesla to pay $137 million in damages to a Black former employee who accused the company of ignoring the racist abuse he endured from other workers.

KXAN - October 19, 2021

Construction shortages halt water line repairs in Round Rock

The City of Round Rock is working to repair aging, old water lines throughout the city. Round Rock City Council approved a contract at its Oct. 14 meeting to replace the lines in the Greenhill subdivision, which is just east of Interstate 35 near Mays Street. In the Greenhill neighborhood, the oak trees have overgrown where many people have come to find home. “I’m one of the original owners when this subdivision went up,” said Carl Michiles. Michiles moved to Greenhill in the 80s. The neighborhood was built in the 70s and so were its water lines. Neighbors who live there agree they could use an upgrade.

“Thirty years of replacing the damaged pipes in my own house, and replacing the water heaters and everything else,” said Chris Sigler. The City of Round Rock’s water line replacement program targets water lines based on their age, history of leaks, breaks and other problems. Replacing these water lines allows for the reliable delivery of drinking water to residents of Round Rock. The City contracted with SKE construction for a total cost of $2,022,746.67. The construction company says Round Rock has had several lines break during the dry seasons when the ground shifts, causing the City to lose thousands of gallons of water. “It seems to be in towns that are expanding in population. The upgrades are all driven by the original infrastructure which is being taxed so hard that it can’t keep up with the demand,” said owner of SKE Construction Karl Ebehart.

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2021

SAHA extends eviction moratorium into 2022 to stop 'unimaginable devastation'

Families renting from the San Antonio Housing Authority who are struggling to make ends meet will continue to be protected from eviction through March 1, agency officials announced. When the coronavirus first began spreading across Texas in March 2020, SAHA stopped evictions for tenants who fell behind on rent, mirroring similar moratoriums set by local, state and federal leaders to keep families from losing their homes amid a public health crisis and record unemployment. Nineteen months later, the government moratoriums have expired, but SAHA president and CEO Ed Hinojosa Jr. said the agency is continuing to hold off on evictions in its properties to prevent some of San Antonio’s most financially — and physically — vulnerable families from losing their homes.

“Within our communities, families have experienced unemployment, illness and financial loss,” Hinojosa said. “Losing their home, the only security they have, would be an unimaginable devastation.” More than half of households renting from SAHA, which runs government-subsidized housing in San Antonio, are headed by older adults and people with disabilities, according to the agency. The typical SAHA family makes about $10,000 per year — far less than what it takes to rent an apartment in San Antonio, where the monthly median rent soared higher than $1,100 this summer. About 2,700 residents are behind on rent, owing about $3 million, according to the agency. SAHA is asking the city and county to put federal pandemic relief dollars toward paying down their debt.

National Stories

The Hill - October 21, 2021

Manchin on party switch: 'It's bull----'

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday dismissed a report that he is actively thinking about dropping out of the Democratic Party as "bullshit" and "rumors." "It's bullshit," Manchin, a centrist, said bluntly after he was asked about a report published in Mother Jones that he has told "associates" he is actively thinking about leaving the Democratic Party. "I have no control of rumors, guys. No control of rumors," Manchin insisted after walking out of a lunch meeting with fellow Democratic committee chairmen just off the Senate floor.

Mother Jones had reported that Manchin would leave the Democratic Party if President Biden and his colleagues stick with a plan to pass a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. The news outlet also reported that Manchin told associates he is considering a two-step plan for exiting the party. In step one, according to the report, he would send a letter to Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) informing him of his plan to drop off Schumer’s leadership team. After waiting for a week, in step two, he reportedly would change his voter registration from Democrat to independent, which would still allow him to vote in the Democratic Party primary under West Virginia election law. Manchin is up for reelection in 2024 and hasn’t said whether he’ll run for a fourth Senate term. The West Virginia centrist, who has balked at his party’s $3.5 trillion price tag for a human infrastructure package, has often been asked about switching parties and every time has attempted to quash the rumors. Manchin appeared close to losing his temper on Wednesday when asked again about the Mother Jones report as he walked back to his office in the Hart Senate Office Building.

Washington Post - October 21, 2021

As White House tries to finalize vaccine mandate, dozens of groups seek last-minute meetings

Federal officials are plowing through meetings requested by more than 40 groups and individuals that have raised questions and concerns about the coming rule that will require many companies to implement coronavirus vaccination or testing protocols for their workers, according to records posted on a government website. Lobbyists from industry associations and unions, as well as some private anti-vaccine individuals, are lining up to take meetings with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is in the process of finalizing the rule that will apply to some 80 million workers, before its expected release in coming weeks.

The unusually high number of groups requesting meetings is a sign of the intense interest in how the Biden administration crafts the policy. Many view this policy as its highest-profile — and probably its most widely contested — effort to increase coronavirus vaccination rates across the country, perhaps one of the most significant undertakings in Labor Department history. A number of meetings appear to be initiated by small but vocal anti-vaccine factions, as right-wing message boards fill with instructions on how to utilize an obscure Clinton-era executive order requiring OMB to solicit these meetings, with the goal of slowing or even stopping the process. But that goal is not possible. Although federal officials appear to be entertaining some of these requests, they do not have to take all of the meeting requests and can release the rule when they are ready. Biden has said the rule will apply to companies with more than 100 employees and will allow for coronavirus testing instead of mandatory vaccinations. Many companies have instituted their own vaccine mandates with high levels of compliance, but some others have said they have significant concerns about how a federal policy would be implemented.

Bloomberg - October 20, 2021

U.S. propane market headed for 'Armageddon' this winter, IHS says

U.S. propane prices are so high and supplies so scarce that the market appears headed for “armageddon” during the depths of winter, according to research firm IHS Markit Ltd. Stockpiles of the key heating fuel and manufacturing feedstock in the world’s biggest economy probably have already topped out for the year and will be stretched as cold weather descends in coming weeks, Edgar Ang, an IHS analyst, said during a webcast presentation on Tuesday.

Prices for the first quarter of 2022 are so far above later-dated supplies that “it may indicate players are preparing for propane-market armageddon,” Ang said. Some regions may face outright shortages before the end of winter, he said. U.S. propane prices have almost doubled this year and are on course for the strongest rally since 2009. North American propane touched a 7 1/2-year high of more than $1.50 a gallon earlier this month, according to DTN Energy. IHS is expecting a colder-than-normal winter that will place even more strain on propane supplies, analyst Veeral Mehta said.

Bloomberg - October 20, 2021

Restaurant operator Brinker International cites higher prices, fewer workers as profit falls

Labor issues, from shortages to strikes, are intensifying and hurting company profits. The increasing likelihood that more wage gains lie ahead implies higher costs and thinner margins, while also undermining the prospect of transitory inflation. The latest labor news comes from restaurant firm Brinker International Inc. — the Dallas-based parent of restaurant chains Chili’s and Maggiano’s Little Italy. The company owns, operates or franchises more than 1,600 restaurants in 29 countries. Brinker shares fell 9.1% Wednesday after its fiscal first-quarter profit fell far short of analysts’ forecasts as it faces higher commodity and labor costs. Peer Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which is due to report on Thursday, also slipped in Wednesday trading, as did other dining stocks.

The “COVID surge starting in August exacerbated the industry-wide labor and commodity challenges and impacted our margins and bottom line more than we anticipated,” Brinker CEO Wyman Roberts said in the statement. “We are responding to these COVID headwinds with increased focus on hiring and retention efforts, and working with our partners to gain further stabilization of the supply chain environment.” Brinker joins a variety of firms reporting earnings with warnings about labor problems, from JB Hunt Transport Services Inc., the country’s biggest long-haul trucking company, to JPMorgan Chase & Co., its biggest bank. Among 23 S&P 500 companies that reported from Oct. 4 to Oct. 15, labor was a top concern, with double the number of firms discussing labor versus those mentioning logistics and port congestion, according to a check cited by RBC strategist Lori Calvasina in a recent note.

Religion News Service - October 20, 2021

Can anyone lead the Southern Baptist Convention forward?

Since 2018, the Southern Baptist Convention has lost a series of high-profile leaders whose tenures ended due to controversy or misconduct. The latest to depart is Ronnie Floyd, a former megachurch pastor who resigned as president of the SBC’s Nashville-based Executive Committee in mid-October, saying in his resignation letter that further association with the committee put “personal integrity, reputation, and leadership” at risk. “What was desired to be leveraged for the advancement of the Gospel by those who called me here, I will not jeopardize any longer because of serving in this role.”

Floyd had been embroiled in weeks of bitter debate over an investigation into how Baptist leaders treated survivors of sexual abuse and their allegations, but his departure came over issues not of personal blame but of how much access investigators would have to records of past conversations and other communications. He follows former SBC President Paige Patterson, who was fired for mishandling a sexual assault at a seminary he led; Frank Page, former president of the Executive Committee, who resigned after a “personal failing”; David Platt, former president of the SBC’s International Mission Board, who resigned after a troubled tenure that included the loss of nearly 1,000 missionaries due to budget cuts; and Russell Moore, former president of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, a critic of former President Donald Trump who had forced unwelcome discussions on sexual abuse. The leadership drain has come at a difficult time for the SBC, which has lost more than 2 million members since 2006. The number of baptisms has declined for years as well. As they try to stem these losses, denominational leaders have feuded, often in public, over their responsibility to address systemic racism, over the role of women in leadership and over support for Trump.

The Verge - October 19, 2021

Facebook is planning to rebrand the company with a new name

Facebook is planning to change its company name next week to reflect its focus on building the metaverse, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter. The coming name change, which CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to talk about at the company’s annual Connect conference on October 28th, but could unveil sooner, is meant to signal the tech giant’s ambition to be known for more than social media and all the ills that entail. The rebrand would likely position the blue Facebook app as one of many products under a parent company overseeing groups like Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, and more. A spokesperson for Facebook declined to comment for this story. Facebook already has more than 10,000 employees building consumer hardware like AR glasses that Zuckerberg believes will eventually be as ubiquitous as smartphones.

In July, he told The Verge that, over the next several years, “we will effectively transition from people seeing us as primarily being a social media company to being a metaverse company.” A rebrand could also serve to further separate the futuristic work Zuckerberg is focused on from the intense scrutiny Facebook is currently under for the way its social platform operates today. A former employee turned whistleblower, Frances Haugen, recently leaked a trove of damning internal documents to The Wall Street Journal and testified about them before Congress. Antitrust regulators in the US and elsewhere are trying to break the company up, and public trust in how Facebook does business is falling. Facebook isn’t the first well-known tech company to change its company name as its ambitions expand. In 2015, Google reorganized entirely under a holding company called Alphabet, partly to signal that it was no longer just a search engine, but a sprawling conglomerate with companies making driverless cars and health tech. And Snapchat rebranded to Snap Inc. in 2016, the same year it started calling itself a “camera company” and debuted its first pair of Spectacles camera glasses.

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

Halliburton posts $236M profit in third quarter

Halliburton, one of the nation’s largest oilfield services companies, reported its third consecutive profitable quarter Tuesday as drilling activity continued to rebound with rising crude demand and prices. The Houston company said it made a $236 million in the three months ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $17 million a year earlier. Revenue grew by almost 30 percent to $3.9 billion compared with $3 billion a year earlier. It was the company’s third-straight period in the black after losing $2.9 billion during a pandemic-scarred 2020. The company, which employs almost 41,000 workers worldwide, reported earnings of $227 million in the second quarter and $170 million in the first.

Halliburton CEO Jeff Miller said that as the global economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, he expects demand for crude and the oilfield services to grow after years of dwindling drilling activity and oil industry investment. “I see a multiyear upcycle unfolding,” Miller said. “Structural global commodity tightness drives increased demand for our services, both internationally and in North America. I believe Halliburton is uniquely positioned in both markets to benefit from this improving environment.” Oilfield services giants such as Halliburton, Schlumberger and Baker Hughes are benefiting from an upswing in drilling and well-completion in North America as business activity and especially travel — which still depends largely on petroleum derivatives — pick up. Crude prices have climbed steadily this year, recently topping $80 a barrel, up from less than $48 a barrel in January. U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate settled at just under $83 a barrel Tuesday afternoon. Drillers, meanwhile, have added 261 rigs over the past year, bringing the U.S. rig count to 543, according to oilfield services company Baker Hughes.

Politifact - October 19, 2021

Debunking the bizarre internet hoax that Bill Clinton was poisoned to death

On Oct. 14, a spokesperson for former President Bill Clinton tweeted that Clinton had been admitted to the hospital two days earlier to get treatment for an infection unrelated to COVID-19. "He is on the mend, in good spirits, and is incredibly thankful to the doctors, nurses and staff providing him excellent care," spokesperson Angel Ureña said in the statement. That may have come as a shock to people who believed a recent fake news headline that said Clinton was already dead.

"Bill Clinton death ruled a homicide, death by poison," a screenshot of the Sept. 30 headline said. An Oct. 14 Instagram post sharing that message was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) The headline appeared on the website Real Raw News, which has published many falsehoods that PolitiFact has checked. In September, we investigated Real Raw News and found the man behind the site previously ran at least three other websites and associated YouTube channels that promoted conspiracy theories. Though the website features a caveat that it says it contains "humor, parody and satire," its stories are often shared without context and its author has defended the posts as the truth. As for the claim that Clinton, 75, is dead — or was killed by poison and discovered lying on a cell floor in Guantanamo Bay, as the Real Raw News narrative goes — it’s not true. It is unfounded and fabricated. Later in the day on Oct. 14, Clinton’s spokesperson tweeted a statement from Clinton’s doctors explaining his treatment at UC Irvine Medical Center. "We hope to have him go home soon," it concluded. We rate this post Pants on Fire.

October 20, 2021

Lead Stories

Five Thirty Eight - October 19, 2021

Why Democratic gains in Texas’s big metro areas could outweigh Republican success in South Texas

In his first public appearance after the attack on the U.S. Capitol, then-President Donald Trump sought respite in South Texas. His visit was billed as a way to promote the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico, but it also gave him a welcome escape from the turmoil in Washington. That’s because, just months prior, voters in Texas’s border region shifted sharply toward Trump. And Trump isn’t the only Republican to see success in South Texas. In June, Javier Villalobos, a former Hidalgo County GOP chair, narrowly bested Veronica Vela Whitacre in a McAllen municipal election. Though the race was technically nonpartisan, local GOP officials insisted Villalobos was the first registered Republican elected mayor of the city this century. “The macro realignment accelerates in South Texas, and elsewhere, as Hispanics rally to America First,” former Trump campaign adviser Steve Cortes tweeted at the time.

It’s why Republicans, headed into the 2022 midterms, plan to campaign in the area more heavily now than they did before. Moreover, through the redistricting process, which Republicans control in Texas, they have positioned themselves to hold a sizable and long-term majority of House seats, including by making it easier to win at least one border-area district currently represented by a Democrat. Whether Republicans will continue to make inroads in the Texas counties along or near the border is unclear — there is conflicting evidence over just how much Hispanic voters moved toward the GOP in 2020 — but if Republicans are successful there, it might not mean a death knell for Democrats hoping to turn Texas blue. That’s because Democrats have made sizable gains in the Texas suburbs. The state as a whole has long voted reliably Republican, but about two-thirds of Texas’s population lives in one of the state’s four huge metropolitan areas — Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and Austin. If you combine all the votes there, Democrats improved their margin by more than 5 percentage points between 2016 and 2020, carrying these areas 52 percent to 47 percent in November. This shift is significant because even though Texas’s border counties moved sharply to the right in 2020 — Starr County, for instance, swung a staggering 55 points toward Republicans — Democrats’ gains in those four big cities and their suburbs added almost five times as many votes as Republicans’ gains in 28 counties along or near Texas’s border with Mexico.1

Austin American-Statesman - October 20, 2021

Two Austin Democrats, one San Antonio Democrat eying runs for 35th Congressional District

Two Austin Democrats and one San Antonio Democrat are considering running next year for a U.S. House District that stretches from East Austin to downtown San Antonio. Austin City Council Member Greg Casar said Tuesday that he has formed an exploratory committee to inform his next steps and state Reps. Eddie Rodriguez of Austin and Trey Martinez Fischer of San Antonio told the American-Statesman that they also are mulling runs for the position. Their interest in the seat comes one day after U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, the Austin Democrat who represents the 35th Congressional District, said he plans to run in a newly-formed district that encompasses most of Austin. “We can win better jobs, a clean planet, and an end to the Republicans’ discriminatory laws," Casar, who has served on City Council since 2015, said in a statement. "We can make the world a better place if we fight for it. If we organize for it. That’s why I’m considering running for Congress — to fight for working class and everyday Texans.”

Rodriguez, who was first elected to the Texas House in 2002, said he is "very seriously considering" running for the seat, one he believes should be represented by a Latino or Latina. "I'm taking a hard look at it," Rodriguez said. "It's an opportunity that doesn't come up very often." Rodriguez lost a bid for state Senate last year to former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. Casar had said he was considering a candidacy for that seat but opted not to run. The 35th District covers much of East Austin and stretches south along Interstate 35. It includes the eastern edges of Hays and Comal counties and a large portion of San Antonio. Doggett has represented the district since it was created in 2011. Lawmakers gave final approval to new congressional maps late Monday, as part of the decennial redistricting process that adjusts political boundaries to account for population changes in the state. A late change to the proposal drew Martinez Fischer's San Antonio residence within the boundaries of the 35th District. Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston and architect of the new map, said Monday the change was made at Martinez Fischer's request.

Bloomberg - October 20, 2021

‘People are hoarding’: Food shortages are the next supply-chain crunch

In Denver, public-school children are facing shortages of milk. In Chicago, a local market is running short of canned goods and boxed items. But there’s plenty of food. There just isn’t always enough processing and transportation capacity to meet rising demand as the economy revs up. More than a year and a half after the coronavirus pandemic upended daily life, the supply of basic goods at U.S. grocery stores and restaurants is once again falling victim to intermittent shortages and delays. “I never imagined that we’d be here in October 2021 talking about supply-chain problems, but it’s a reality,” said Vivek Sankaran, chief executive officer of Albertsons Cos., who echoed the laments of other retailers. “Any given day, you’re going to have something missing in our stores, and it’s across categories.”

In Denver, broken parts at the milk supplier’s plant affected shipments of half-pint cartons, on top of disruptions at one time or another in cereal, tortillas and juice. “We’ve been struggling with supply-chain issues with different items since school started,” said Theresa Hafner, the executive director of food services at Denver Public Schools. “It just continues to pop up. It’s like playing whack-a-mole.” In Chicago, Dill Pickle Food Co-Op ran out of certain dry goods because its two main distributors haven’t been sending orders in full in recent weeks. “Early in the pandemic, panic buying was the cause of many of the out-of-stock situations that grocers experienced,” general manager I’Talia McCarthy said in an email to store owners this month. “Although the food industry was able to somewhat rebound, the sustained nature of the pandemic, combined with the slow pace of vaccination globally and the recent surge caused by the delta variant, have resurfaced the problem.” The shortages aren’t as acute as they were earlier in the pandemic. At supermarkets, on-shelf availability has stabilized since dropping drastically in November last year, according to data from NielsenIQ. Still, one key metric is trending down a bit. The total on-shelf-availability rate was 94.6% in September, a decrease from 95.2% in August. That means that 94.6% of expected revenue was generated last month, NielsenIQ says.

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

Texas natural gas industry showing limited progress in winter storm prep, experts say

Efforts to get the Texas natural gas industry ready to operate through another severe winter storm like February’s are so far showing limited gains, with independent experts saying they see little evidence of companies increasing investments to weatherize their facilities against cold weather. Since the frigid weather knocked out power to millions of Texans, state and federal officials have called on energy companies to weatherize the power grid and the natural gas system on which it relies to avoid a repeat of a disaster that led to more than 200 deaths and billions of dollars in property damage. Experts say the power sector is shoring up generation against cold weather, but there is little evidence the gas industry is doing much to ensure that natural gas keeps flowing even in the harshest winter conditions.

Randall McCollum, a senior vice president who tracks the gas industry for the research firm Wood Mackenzie, said he not seen any natural gas producers in Texas making significant investment to protect their wells and other equipment against the cold. “I highly doubt they’d spend the capital to do it as it’s not economic for an occasional event,” he said. That assessment stands in stark contrast to the picture painted by Todd Staples, president of the Texas Oil and Gas Association, who in a letter to the Texas Senate Business and Commerce Committee earlier this month said the industry was, “as ready as physically possible for this upcoming season.” “Our industry is not waiting,” he wrote, “and has already made significant changes resulting in a dramatically improved status of readiness.” In an interview, Staples explained his claim as based on companies mapping natural gas wells and other facilities so they can alert power utilities not to cut electricity in the event of rotating outages — which vast majority of facilities failed to due ahead of February’s storm. During that event, the cutoff or electricity to natural gas fields struggling to operate in freezing temperatures “partially contributed to the decline in production of natural gas,” the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said in a report last month. That resulted in a downward spiral in the state power supply, which relies on natural gas for more than 50 percent of its generating capacity. With natural gas-fired plants cascading off-line due to limited fuel and other weather-related problems, the grid came within a few minutes of shutting down altogether, an event that could have taken weeks if not months to recover from.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2021

White House blasts Texas’ pending restriction on transgender student athletes as ‘hateful’

With Gov. Greg Abbott poised to sign a transgender sports restrictions bill into law, the White House on Tuesday denounced Texas’ “hateful” move to exclude students from school teams based on their sex at birth. Abbott prodded lawmakers all year for the bill, and commended them Tuesday for having finally “passed legislation to protect the integrity of Texas high school sports.” The Biden administration had a dramatically different take.

“This hateful bill in Texas is just the latest example of Republican state lawmakers using legislation to target transgender kids — whom the president believes are some of the bravest Americans — in order to score political points,” White House spokesman Ike Hajinazarian told The Dallas Morning News. “These anti-transgender bills are nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation and undermine our nation’s core values.” White House press secretary Jen Psaki deferred to the Justice Department on the question of whether the administration would challenge the Texas restrictions, but emphasized that “the president’s view is that transgender rights are human rights, whether for adults or kids.” In Austin, where the third special session wrapped up in the wee hours Tuesday, the governor lauded the Legislature for addressing redistricting and property taxes and going “above and beyond to solve other critical issues to ensure an even brighter future for the Lone Star State.” In June, the Department of Education announced that going forward, it will interpret Title IX, which bars federal funding of schools that discriminate on the basis of sex, to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity – setting up a likely clash with Texas and states with similar restrictions. Abbott hasn’t said when he’ll sign House Bill 25 into law, but there’s no doubt he will, having pressed for the trans sports ban all year.

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2021

Who triumphed – and who got walloped – in Texas lawmakers’ 3rd overtime session of the year?

And on the 227th day of legislating this year, they went home. Texas lawmakers capped off the weirdness of the coronavirus pandemic with a 2021 consumed by state business that again diverted their focus from families and life outside the Capitol. Once again – for man-made not virus-driven causes – they lacked predictability in running their businesses, law practices and occupations. True, they were going to have to spend some time in Austin in the fall, no matter what. COVID-19 upended the decennial census-taking, which meant the Legislature couldn’t get the population data needed to draw new political maps during their 140-day regular session, as is the norm. But battling over election fraud – both its pervasiveness and whether it affected the 2020 presidential election – and Democrats’ desire for easier access to the ballot box kicked what’s normally a rancorous year of partisan battles into overdrive. Democratic walkouts prompted GOP leaders, eager not to look weak, to force an almost nonstop year of sessions – one regular and three specials. Here’s who emerged from the third looking victorious – or foolish. Only Gov. Greg Abbott can say if he’ll call a fourth, though at least initially, Abbott intimates were saying Tuesday that’s unlikely.

Winners: Republicans: If they want to stay in power for much of the rest of the decade, they emerged from redistricting with very favorable maps, at all levels. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick: No major Republican has dared to challenge him in next year’s primary. No Democratic senator defies him. And with almost total sway over his 18 Republican senators – probably soon to be 19, given an aggressive new GOP-backed Senate map that mystifyingly drew bipartisan support – Patrick at times seems to run the Capitol. Ask North Richland Hills GOP Sen. Kelly Hancock, who was busted as head of the chamber’s business panel after clashing with Patrick over how to fix ills of the electric grid that the winter storm exposed. Social conservatives: Despite scant evidence there’s more than a potential problem, many see transgender girls as a threat to female athletes. Lawmakers passed a law making all University Interscholastic League athletes play in sports of the sex listed on their birth certificate that was assigned at or near the time of birth. Currently, the UIL accepts birth certificates that have been modified to match a student’s gender identity. Homeowners: They would see a slight reduction next year in their school property taxes, assuming state voters in May approve a constitutional amendment. For the average owner of a home worth $300,000, the increase of the homestead exemption to $40,000, from $25,000, would reduce their school maintenance and operation tax bill by about $176 a year.

Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2021

American Airlines, Southwest Airlines won’t fire employees who apply for vaccine exemptions

American Airlines and Southwest Airlines won’t fire or suspend employees who file for exemptions to comply with federal orders that all workers be vaccinated, even those whose applications are rejected. Fort Worth-based American and Dallas-based Southwest told employee unions in recent days that employees granted religious exemptions will be allowed to keep working as long as they agree to extra health protocols, such as wearing masks and regular testing. Employees who refuse to submit proof of vaccination or apply for an exemption could still be fired at American. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said on Good Morning America recently that “we’re not going to fire any of our employees over this.”

Southwest declined to further clarify or expand on Kelly’s comment. The evolving mandates at both airlines come after pressure from customers, political activists, employees and the Biden administration over the controversial rule that all employees must be vaccinated to comply with new federal rules for contractors. American and Southwest have each said they intend to comply with the federal mandate. Each airline has seen protests against a mandate outside corporate headquarters in North Texas, garnering criticism from some workers who say they would rather be fired than be vaccinated. Airlines have until Dec. 8 to comply with the mandates or risk losing federal contracts. American and Southwest initially told workers that they would need to be vaccinated or receive an exemption in order to keep working, but the carriers are continuing to refine how to comply with the rules. Both companies are encouraging employees to apply for exemptions. “While we intend to grant all valid requests for medical and/or religious accommodations, in the event a request is not granted, the company will provide adequate time for an employee to become fully vaccinated while continuing to work and adhering to safety protocols,” Southwest Airlines said in a statement.

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2021

Takeaways from the 2021 redistricting process that featured Texas Republicans protecting power

Looking to remain in power for at least another decade, Republicans revised legislative and congressional boundaries to protect their majorities in Austin and Washington. While their maps could add a few seats in the legislature, the goal was to refrain from getting overly greedy by drawing boundaries that were closer to the status quo—which means the GOP is still in solid control of Texas politics. But maintaining the status quo is the biggest problem with this year’s redistricting process, critics say. Legislative boundaries are revamped every decade, and new U.S. Census data is supposed to inform the decisions of map drawers. In Texas, minority residents made up 95% of the increased population growth over the past decade. While people of color can and sometimes do vote for Republican candidates, the gerrymandered boundaries that will be in place for the 2022 midterm elections packed minority voters into districts already controlled by communities of color, and place others in small town areas, where their political impact is mitigated.

The GOP’s redistricting strategy was most prominent in North Texas, where Republican lawmakers developed a map that protected incumbents from suburban districts on the verge of being won by Democrats. In protecting various seats, Republicans sacrificed a few GOP House members or districts to fortify others that were deemed more critical. In Tarrant County, for instance, the district currently represented by Republican Jeff Cason was revised as a district that would heavily favor a Democrat, which now makes Cason unelectable. In sacrificing Cason, one of two Republicans who voted against Beaumont Republican Dade Phelan as speaker, the GOP bolstered the districts of at least five other Republicans. Republicans also made small concessions to Democrats in order to protect vulnerable GOP House members. The districts of GOP representatives Matt Shaheen and Jeff Leach in Collin County were made more Republican. They had been in districts ready to tip to Democrats. In order to secure Shaheen and Leach, Republicans revised District 70 in Collin County to make it more Democratic. It’s currently represented by retiring Republican Scott Sanford of McKinney.

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2021

Texas lawmakers approve more than $3B for college projects across the state

Texas legislators reached an agreement early Tuesday morning to provide about $3.3 billion dollars to help colleges and universities accommodate growth. The deal for capital projects in higher education across the state was reached in a swift whirlwind before lawmakers adjourned the Legislature’s third special session. The funding bill now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott for signature. It was originally set to fork out roughly $3 billion dollars under a Senate version, but negotiations with the House raised the number as they worked to include more schools. Texas hasn’t passed a revenue bond package to fund higher education growth since 2015 and since 2006 before that. University and college leaders were hopeful that one would come about this year, particularly after the pandemic strained resources nationwide.

“These are tough economic times that we’re recovering from, so this request in higher education … is key to that recovery,” Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, said during Friday’s Senate debate on the bill. Abbott added the higher education funding issue to the special session’s agenda on Friday after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick sent a letter urging him to do so. The issue needed to be included on the call in order to be able to be considered. If signed into law, the legislation would allocate about $52.4 million each to the University of Texas at Dallas and the University of Texas at Arlington for construction and renovations; $100 million to the University of North Texas at Dallas for the construction of a science building; and nearly $60 million to the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth for its campus. It would also change the name of “tuition revenue bonds” to “capital construction assistance projects” after lawmakers declared the term was confusing. The funds are generally used only for physical improvements to campuses — such as new facilities or renovations — and not tuition assistance for students.

Dallas Morning News - October 20, 2021

Texas’ latest congressional gerrymander wouldn’t pass muster under doomed Freedom to Vote Act

Congress is preparing for a showdown Wednesday on a doomed bill to protect minority voting rights that Democrats view as critical – and that, if it were in place, would derail the gerrymandered redistricting plan just finalized in Austin. Republicans set aside a scant 14 of 38 U.S. House seats in Texas for Democrats, leaving the rest for themselves. That’s 37% for Democrats, 63% for Republicans – a gap of 26 points that doesn’t even come close to passing muster under the Freedom to Vote Act, which uses recent federal elections as the benchmark to determine whether a congressional map is even modestly fair. “There are serious voting rights issues on the map,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert at the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice. He noted how blatantly the Texas congressional map that Gov. Greg Abbott will soon sign violates the proposed ban on partisan gerrymandering. Republicans carried Texas in the last two races for president and U.S. Senate – but not by anything close to 26 points.

The best showing was Sen. John Cornyn’s 9.6-point victory last fall over Democrat MJ Hegar. Donald Trump, then the president, topped Joe Biden by just 6 points. In 2018, Sen. Ted Cruz fended off Beto O’Rourke by a nail-biting 2.6-point margin. In 2016, Trump won the White House while topping Hillary Clinton in Texas by 9 points. The Brennan Center has identified a congressional map proposed by Illinois Democrats as likewise violating the proposed rules. But, Li said, “Texas stands out” for having such a huge fairness gap. The Supreme Court defanged the landmark Voting Rights Act in 2013, ending a requirement for Texas and other states to prove to the Justice Department that any proposed election changes weren’t discriminatory. Republicans have stymied efforts to restore federal oversight. Democrats in Texas and other states dominated by Republicans that have passed restrictive elections bills have clamored for help from Congress to safeguard voting rights. The Freedom to Vote Act is a scaled-down version of their wish list. Among other provisions, the Freedom to Vote Act would limit state voter ID requirements. It also would ban mid-decade redistricting, which Texas Republicans undertook in 2003 after winning control of the Legislature in the 2002 midterms. As to partisan gerrymandering, it allows a deviation up to 7% from the four benchmark federal contests, meaning that Texas Democrats should have control of at least 16 congressional districts and Republicans should have no more than 22.

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

After Abbott veto, Texas Legislature passes 2nd bill regulating chained dogs and outdoor shelter

After a governor’s veto earlier this year, an #AbbottHatesDogs Twitter campaign and hours of debate and consternation, both houses of the Texas Legislature passed a bill mandating safety requirements for dogs that are kept outdoors. It now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott, who is expected to sign. The bill requires that dogs be provided adequate shelter from heat and access to water when restrained outside without the owner present, that their collars be properly fitted to them and — most controversially — that dogs may not be left outside on their own attached to certain kinds of restraints, including chains. Under current law, law enforcement officials who observe a dog in unsafe conditions must provide 24 hours for the owner to address the matter, but under this bill they would be able issue criminal citations immediately.

The bill is hailed by supporters as a common-sense set of policies to offer greater protections to dogs in Texas. “We’re taking steps to make sure our dogs are not abused in any way, to make sure they’re not harmed or abused in any way,” Sen. Eddie Lucio, a Brownsville Democrat who has carried the legislation for several sessions, said on the Senate floor Monday. “We wouldn’t obviously be having this bill and carrying this bill at this point if it weren’t for the good of the owner and the good of the dog.” But the bill has drawn ire particularly in rural areas of Texas, where some felt the legislation would impose on their ability to care for their pets and that chains can be used humanely, particularly to restrain larger, more aggressive dogs that could be a threat to children or others without them. Abbott vetoed the legislation when it was passed in the regular session, siding with those critics, despite the bill’s passage with wide support from members of both parties. He said the bill was “micro-managing and over-criminalization” and listed as examples “the tailoring of the dog’s collar, the time the dog spends in the bed of a truck, and the ratio of tether-to-dog length, as measured from the tip of the nose to the base of the tail.” Animal rights and anti animal cruelty advocates who pushed the bill for years were surprised by the decision, and the veto drew a great deal of negative attention along with the backlash on social media.

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

Houston housing staff pitches corrective plan to close Harvey recovery budget holes

City housing officials on Tuesday said they are working to review and cut down administrative expenses, submit expenditures for reimbursement in a more timely manner and adjust reporting structures to help close a potential budget hole in the Harvey recovery program they presented earlier this month. Temika Jones, the housing department’s chief financial officer, laid out the six-item corrective plan to City Council’s housing committee. Three of the items relate to trimming or re-evaluating administrative expenses, two involve submitting costs to the state for reimbursement on a more timely basis, and one would seek to open a line of communication from Jones to the finance department and the mayor’s office. The plans have led to some incremental success so far, Jones said: The Texas General Land Office, which administers the funds, has approved another $9 million in reimbursements and the department has moved closer to hitting the GLO’s end-of-year progress benchmarks.

“A lot of the corrective actions we were going to recommend that we didn’t get to last (meeting), we as a department went ahead and implemented those,” Jones told council members. “These are the direct result of a lot of those corrective actions being implemented and executed well.” District F Councilmember Tiffany Thomas, who chairs the housing committee, called the progress “very good,” while acknowledging there was a lot of work left to do. Jones and Interim Housing Director Keith Bynam outlined the financial holes earlier this month and suggested Bynam’s predecessor, Tom McCasland, had not presented them to Mayor Sylvester Turner or the council. McCasland was fired for publicly alleging Turner was steering Harvey affordable housing funds to a specific developer. The Chronicle later reported that Turner’s former longtime law partner, Barry Barnes, was a co-developer on the deal. Turner has denied any wrongdoing and subsequently hinted McCasland was covering for mismanagement of his own. He later dropped the housing deal at the center of the allegations. McCasland has said on Twitter the council and administration were briefed on the expenses and there were “no secrets” about how the department is funded. He declined comment on the corrective action plan or Tuesday’s committee meeting.

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

Houston Republican Dan Huberty won't seek re-election to Texas House

State Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, announced Tuesday he will not seek re-election to another term in the Texas House. Huberty’s announcement came the morning after lawmakers wrapped up the third special session of the year. Republican leaders have indicated they do not expect Gov. Greg Abbott to call them back to Austin before the next regularly scheduled session in 2023, meaning Huberty’s time at the Capitol is likely finished. Now midway through his sixth term, Huberty was first elected to the House in 2010, after serving for five years on the Humble ISD board of trustees. He continued to focus on education policy in the Legislature, serving on the House Public Education Committee each term and as chair of the committee during the 2017 and 2019 sessions.

In 2019, Huberty helped lead a landmark plan to boost state public education spending and reduce school property tax rates, issues that have vexed lawmakers in Austin for years. In a statement announcing his retirement, Huberty cited the legislation, House Bill 3, as a key accomplishment. “My interest in and passion for public education remains at my core,” Huberty said. “I believe the work we have accomplished, specifically HB3 … will have a lasting impact for the schoolchildren of Texas for a long time to come.” Viewed as one of the most moderate Republicans in the Texas Legislature, Huberty is an investment consultant known for his sharp, brightly colored suits. He has said he considered retiring after the 2017 session, when he authored a less ambitious school finance plan that failed to win consensus in Austin. After the House passed Huberty’s 2019 education spending bill, then-speaker Dennis Bonnen said Huberty “has worked harder than I’ve ever seen a member, in my 22 years of service in the House, on an issue.” Huberty’s retirement announcement comes several months after he was charged with driving while intoxicated after crashing his Corvette in Porter while driving back from the legislative session in Austin. He later apologized in an emotional speech on the House floor, which he opened by saying, “My name is Dan, and I’m an alcoholic.” Huberty’s two-year term is up in January 2023. His northeast Harris County district was already being targeted by Republican Anthony Dolcefino, a former Houston City Council candidate who announced a primary challenge to Huberty shortly after the incumbent’s arrest in April. The district takes in Kingwood, Humble and Atascocita, all areas it is set to retain under the House redistricting map approved by lawmakers Monday.

Houston Chronicle - October 20, 2021

Erica Grieder: Colin Powell chose to lift up young Americans during his long, trailblazing life

Years ago, when she traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the Congressional Black Caucus conference for the first time, Shekira Dennis had a goal in mind: she would meet Colin Powell, the former Secretary of State, and get him to sign her copy of his new book. “I got up super early to catch him,” Dennis recalled Tuesday, with a laugh. It was a brief meeting, she explained, on the floor of the conference’s expo center--but a meaningful one nonetheless. She was, at the time, a senior at Texas Southern University, having just finished her term as student body president; today, she’s the founder of Next Wave Strategies, a Houston-based consultancy. “He was extremely warm, welcoming, very encouraging,” Dennis continued. “General Powell cared about empowering individuals to see and own their space in this world no matter how big or small.” Tributes along those lines have poured in since Powell died on Monday, at age 84.

Many of them have come from national leaders on both sides of the aisle, and many have made mention of Powell’s personal qualities--his integrity, his good humor, his friendship--as well as his professional accomplishments, which were staggering. Powell, the son of immigrants from Jamaica, served in the Army for 35 years, retiring as a four-star general after stints as national security advisor to President Ronald Reagan and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He then became Secretary of State under President George W. Bush--the first Black American to hold that post. Along the way he, among other things, founded the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at his alma mater, the City College of New York. “General Powell was much more than a brilliant strategist,” wrote James A. Baker III, who served as secretary of state in the first Bush’s administration, in a statement Monday for Rice University’s Baker Institute, of which he is honorary chair. “He was a beautiful human being.” In August, Powell wrote to Erin Mathe, the principal of Colin L. Powell Elementary School in The Woodlands, to ask how she, her colleagues, and the school’s students were doing.

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2021

Redistricting sets up major political battle for the heart of San Antonio

Austin may be getting a new congressional district, but it’s triggering a political shift that will have major implications for San Antonio and result in a new member of Congress for the heart of downtown. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has already announced he’s leaving behind the district he has represented since 2013 that runs from San Antonio to Austin. Instead, Doggett will run next year in the new 37th Congressional District, which is more centrally located in Travis, his home county. The result is a wide-open race in 2022 for the reconfigured 35th Congressional District that now includes downtown San Antonio. Without Doggett, the district now has no incumbent and heavily favors a Democrat. That could draw in dozens of well-known Texas Democrats to a battle in which candidates from both Austin and San Antonio will have a shot at it. It didn’t take long for State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, to become part of the conversation.

Currently, two of the five congressional districts that include portions of Bexar County are represented by members of Congress from other cities — Austin and Laredo. But he’s not the only one considering a bid for the open seat. Austin City Council member Greg Casar, a Democrat, announced on social media he is “considering running to represent our community in the United States Congress.” Though Casar isn’t officially in the race, he’s already started to pick up notable endorsements, including from former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Wendy Davis and Austin Mayor Steve Adler. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, who represents many of the areas in East Austin now included in the 35th Congressional District, is also considered a potential challenger. The sudden shift in the 35th District underscores the stakes in redistricting, a once-in-a-decade process required by law to redraw the state’s congressional districts to reflect population changes identified by the census. On Monday night the House and Senate both put the finishing touches on the plan that now goes to Gov. Greg Abbott. Even if it becomes law immediately, the plan is likely to face lawsuits that could delay its implementation. The primary elections are set for March 1, but court delays could interfere with the implementation of the maps, possibly pushing the primary deeper into spring 2022. Still, the stage is set for another all-out primary battle featuring two of Texas’s biggest Democratic strongholds. The redesigned 35th Congressional District has 303,000 people from Bexar County and about 300,000 people from Travis County. It will also pick up 137,000 people in Hays County and 25,000 in Comal County, mostly along I-35. As the district is now drawn, Black and Hispanic voters will make up 68 percent of its residents.

San Antonio Express-News - October 20, 2021

Elaine Ayala: Mexican consulates will vaccinate undocumented through new border health initiative

Towns and cities along the U.S.-Mexico border are celebrating news that after 19 long months, points of entry closed to non-essential travel will reopen next month. Places like Laredo and Brownsville will begin to rebuild longstanding patterns of travel for people who never saw it as “non-essential.” They’ll need to show proof of vaccination along with their visas. That major announcement last week might have overshadowed a new border initiative that holds the promise of boosting economic recovery, too. It will get more Mexican nationals in the U.S. vaccinated against the coronavirus. The project is part of the Mexican government’s ongoing Ventanillas de Salud program. It’s conducted by Mexican consulates in the U.S. in partnership with local nonprofit agencies that provide direct health and wellness services.

The new initiative hopes to reach 3 million Mexican nationals, including undocumented migrants, with a goal of delivering at least 1 million vaccinations. The target audience for first or second vaccines and/or booster shots are essential workers 18 to 65 who’ve been hesitant to get vaccinated. The project’s timeline: 12 months. A $2.5 million grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation will be “regranted” by the nonprofit U.S.-Mexico Border Philanthropy Partnership, or BPP, into $31,000 increments. The BPP will use the remainder, about $1 million, to do a national outreach campaign targeting the same populations that the local Ventanilla agencies will serve. The media and public relations campaign will promote COVID-19 vaccines and testing, aiming to eliminate “hesitancy” among Mexican nationals. Ventanilla de Salud, Spanish for windows of health, has served 14 million Mexican nationals, more than 3 million in 2020, according to Mexican officials. It was established in 2003. Fifty Mexican consulates are expected to tap local nonprofit agencies to apply. They will be agencies known and trusted in the Latino community, officials said.

Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

UT spent more than $315,000 on presidential inauguration, celebration

The University of Texas spent more than $315,000 on the inauguration and campus celebration for UT President Jay Hartzell last month. About a year after assuming the presidency, Hartzell was inaugurated as UT’s 30th president and gave the annual State of the University address to a crowd in front of the UT Tower on Sept. 24. After the inauguration, thousands of students, staffers and faculty members attended an outdoor celebration on campus with free food and music. UT spent about $152,050 on the inauguration and State of the University address and approximately $163,600 on the luncheon, according to a list of expenses provided to the American-Statesman after a request made under the Texas Public Information Act. The costs were covered by donations to the university.

The inauguration costs covered a variety of services, such as security, parking and transportation, and disability services. Some of the specific event costs included more than $12,718 for the UT Police Department, $880 for floral arrangements and nearly $2,500 for teleprompter equipment rentals. During the luncheon after the inauguration, UT spent approximately $134,000 for food to serve about 5,000 people, according to the expense list. The food costs include more than $76,900 spent on 3,000 Black’s BBQ orders, $2,780 spent on 200 orders from P. Terry's and thousands of dollars more spent at places such as Chi'Lantro, Cold Ones Pops and Bananarchy. The expenses for the post-event celebration also included about $29,350 for tenting, miscellaneous rentals and musical performances. During the event, Hartzell gave a speech about his goal to make UT the world's highest impact public research university by, in part, focusing on the people at UT. He said he wanted to ensure that UT is committed to transforming people’s lives and changing the way people around the world think and live.

Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

Adam McCormick: LGBTQ youth suffer while Texas agency plays politics with website

(McCormick is associate professor of social work at St. Edward’s University and author the book LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care: Empowering Approaches for an Inclusive System of Care.) In an unprecedented move, the agency that is responsible for protecting our state’s most vulnerable youth recently removed vital resources for LGBTQ youth in crisis. Top child welfare officials at the Department of Family and Protective Services removed a long-standing webpage that provided resources for LGBTQ youth who are in acute crisis or experiencing suicidal ideations, as well as resources for young people who are experiencing discrimination or mistreatment related to their identity. The Houston Chronicle reported the webpage came down hours after Don Huffines, one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Republican primary challengers, tweeted about the site and accused the governor of “promoting transgender sexual policies to Texas youth.” Actually, Abbott has a history of exploiting LGBTQ youth to gain cheap political points with his base. Just look at the governor's continued calls this year for a ban on transgender students competing on sports teams aligned with their gender identity, a measure the Texas House passed last week.

With the removal of the webpage for LGBTQ youth, however, it's the actions of the state’s top child welfare officials that should set off alarm bells for Texans. LGBTQ youth are among the most vulnerable youth in our state. One in three teens who die by suicide this year will have an LGBTQ identity, and 42% of LGBTQ youth report experiences of suicidal ideations in the past year. When compared to non-LGBTQ peers, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely to consider suicide. Crisis lines have proven to be a lifeline for people who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, especially for populations on the margins who face added barriers to mental health care. Nearly 80% of callers to crisis lines report that calls were effective in preventing them from hurting themselves. LGBTQ youth are also more vulnerable to nearly every form of child maltreatment, and they are placed in foster care at disproportionately high rates.

Axios - October 20, 2021

Johnson & Johnson pulls the trigger on Texas talc gambit

It's official: Johnson & Johnson has invoked a Texas legal loophole in an attempt to protect the bulk of its corporate assets from claims that its baby powder caused ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Why it matters: It's the biggest and boldest invocation yet of the so-called Texas two-step defense. But it's still not clear whether it's going to work. How it works: J&J has now split into two companies, one of which — LTL Management LLC — holds all the baby-powder liabilities. LTL has filed for bankruptcy, which means that all existing cases and trials against the company are halted, pending a bankruptcy settlement. J&J has promised to fund LTL with at least $2 billion to be spread across the 34,600 claimants. That's less than it already owes in just one case with 22 plaintiffs.

J&J is attempting to cap its liabilities at the value of its consumer arm, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. (JJCI) — the parent company of such brands as Neutrogena, Band-Aid, Listerine, Splenda, Visine and Tylenol. The other side: Plaintiffs calculate that while JJCI is certainly very valuable, J&J's total talc-related liabilities could be much larger. So they want to be able to sue J&J itself — a company worth over $400 billion. Between the lines: J&J seems to have the legal upper hand for the time being. LTL filed for bankruptcy in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Fourth Circuit places the burden of proof on challengers, rather than on the debtor (which would be the case in Delaware.) What's next: J&J wants to negotiate a global settlement with all of the plaintiffs — one that guarantees them money and, crucially, that releases J&J itself from any further liability. If the two sides can't find a sum that's mutually acceptable, the bankruptcy could drag on for many years. A previous Texas two-step case involving asbestos claims against BestWall, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, has been sitting in bankruptcy court for about four years. The bottom line: J&J is happy to see the bankruptcy case drag on indefinitely, especially if the tort cases are stayed while that happens. But unless and until it can persuade the claimants that it's offering a good deal, the parent company won't be formally released from talc-related liability.

NBC 5 - October 19, 2021

Nonprofit launches $10M campaign to address students' mental health

Finding help for children with mental health concerns can be costly for families across North Texas. Communities in Schools of the Dallas Region (CISDR) announced a new campaign raising $10 million to help young students after seeing the mental health crisis go from bad to worse during the pandemic. Curtisha Taylor remembers having a tough time as a teenager, but not knowing it was related to her mental health "When I grew up that we didn't call it that, it was just behavior problems, you know, you just bad, you know, you're just, you know, rebellious,” she said. Taylor says a social worker changed her life and now, through her work as a clinical coordinator for Communities in Schools of the Dallas Region (CISDR), she's trying to do the same, by getting to the root cause of why so many are struggling in school.

”We’re seeing the anxiety, we're seeing the depression, we're seeing the bullying, we are seeing, you know, students who are not interested in school anymore, because they are facing a lot of adverse situations when they walk into those doors,” said Taylor. ” I don't think there is a larger issue today than the mental health and wellness of our young people,” said CISDR CEO Adam Powell. Powell says more than half the students they serve are reporting some sort of mental health challenge. He says 15 more districts have asked for their help. “Now that we're back in school, school shootings, right, students that are struggling with homicidal ideations and suicidal ideations, we're hearing those things and I think those campuses are now starting to feel kind of the impact of that and are looking for support,” said Powell. Powell says they don't have the capacity to expand to the additional districts currently and are now raising money to increase access for students. Monday, CISDR launched a new fundraising campaign Safer Students, Stronger Schools (4S). The nonprofit is raising $10 million to add more site coordinators and offer youth mental health first aid training to more schools across the region. "My hope would be that we never have another student that has to struggle with a mental health challenge alone,” said Powell. The goal is to have more social workers like Taylor to hold their hand and get students to the other side. “They really they want to do better and then they also get that extra glimmer of hope that hey, you can be what you want to be you can be,” said Taylor. So far, CISDR has raised $2 million toward its $10 million fundraising goal.

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: DeBerry's firm creates PR headache for RMA, Bexar County

Even before Trish DeBerry launched her campaign for Precinct 3 county commissioner, we had concerns about potential conflicts of interest. Her then-PR firm, the DeBerry Group, had numerous public contracts that would create at least the appearance of a conflict for someone serving in public office. DeBerry easily won her seat and has been a force on Bexar County Commissioners Court. She also restructured and re-branded her PR firm, now called talkStrategy, to address concerns about potential conflicts. But 10 months into DeBerry’s term, our concerns endure. Case in point, talkStrategy is a finalist to renew a public relations and marketing contract with the Alamo Regional Mobility Authority, which is set to meet Wednesday. Technically, the Alamo RMA is an independent entity from the county.

Functionally, though, it is an extension of the county. County commissioners appoint its board members. County Manager David L. Smith is the RMA’s executive director. Renee D. Green, the county’s director of public works, is the RMA’s chief engineer. And so on. We spoke with DeBerry, county officials and talkStrategy about the ethics of the RMA potentially selecting a PR firm that was founded by a sitting county commissioner. They all said there is no conflict. This may be legally and technically true, but we think it reflects a very narrow reading of the situation that treads on the public trust and screams for ethics reform. DeBerry told us she understood our concerns, but she had taken steps to address them. She is now a limited partner in talkStrategy, working only with private sector clients. She had divested her equity in the firm, she said, and is not involved in day-to-day operations. “I have gone above and beyond to try to distance myself and create a firewall that is beyond reproach,” she said.

Dallas Morning News - October 19, 2021

Dallas County is redrawing boundaries, benefitting Democrats. Here’s why it matters to voters

Dallas County commissioners will begin considering new redistricting options this week, and the efforts could favor Democratic candidates in future elections. Every decade, the county redraws its electoral maps with new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Just like legislators in Austin are deciding state House and Senate boundaries, and the Dallas City Council will debate new districts, the Commissioners Court is tasked with adjusting its own lines based on population and demographic changes. Technically, the commissioners do not have to redraw the district lines. The county’s population grew by more than 245,000 since the last census to 2.6 million, but the distribution of residents didn’t shift enough to force a change in the maps. However, demographic differences give the Democratic-led Commissioners Court a chance to strengthen the voting power of minority groups.

Over the past decade, the percentage of white non-Hispanic residents in the county dropped from 33% to 28%, while the Hispanic population grew from 38% to 40%. The number of Black residents has remained steady at 22%. The Commissioners Court begins public hearings Tuesday on three options — all of which dilute Republican voting power while solidifying Democratic control. Especially in northern Dallas’ District 2, Commissioner J.J. Koch, the five-member court’s lone Republican, said the suggested maps could shut him and other GOP candidates out. “[The maps] are a little bit shocking,” Koch said. “If that isn’t gerrymandering, I don’t know what is.” But the maps also will improve the voting power of Hispanics and keep cities grouped in single districts, which Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said was one of his primary goals in redistricting. “It’s hard to draw these districts on a purely political basis,” Jenkins said. “The map should hold together communities of interest.”

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2021

Tarrant Regional Water District adopts new rules on nepotism and board management

The Tarrant Regional Water District adopted rules Tuesday to strengthen its policies on nepotism and board management. The changes come in the wake of a dispute with former general manager Jim Oliver, who had threatened legal action after the board revoked a $300,000 payment unilaterally awarded to Oliver by former board president Jack Stevens. The board settled those claims on Oct. 8, however, Tarrant County District Attorney Sharen Wilson informed the board she was investigating its terms after receiving complaints about how the board handled the settlement.

The biggest difference are changes to the board’s policy on nepotism. Previously, the board’s policies defaulted to the state minimum, which prevented water district staff from hiring anyone they were related to by blood up to three degrees of separation. The new rule adds language expanding that definition to include three degrees of separation from a domestic partnership or dating relationship. This would have prohibited Oliver from hiring his girlfriend in 2019. Board member Mary Kelleher praised the changes, but expressed reservations about the section on public comment. The newly approved policy will keep the old structure in place in which residents are allowed to speak for three minutes at the beginning of the meeting, but aren’t allowed to comment on individual agenda items. Katie Long, an attorney advising the board on the policy changes, said this is consistent with Texas’ public meetings law and a 2020 opinion from State Attorney General Ken Paxton.However, activists countered the board is adopting the most conservative interpretation of the statute and want the board to adopt a structure similar to the Fort Worth City Council, which allows residents to comment for three minutes on individual agenda items.

Axios - October 19, 2021

Dallas public-private coalition wants to house 2,700 homeless people

A coalition of local government and civic leaders is aiming to move 2,700 people experiencing homelessness into housing by October 2023 through a private-public partnership. Much of the public funding, which will go toward housing vouchers, comes from the American Recovery Plan Act. Why it matters: Dallas rehousing programs have long relied on public funds to pay for rents. The private donations will incentivize landlords to accept government housing vouchers. "With an incentive, landlords are much more likely to take our clients as tenants," said Peter Brodsky, the board chair of the Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance. Private donors met a $10 million fundraising goal this week as part of the $72 million rapid rehousing initiative.

Major donors include Bank of America, Communities Foundation of Texas and the Perot Family. What's happening: More than 600 housing vouchers will go toward domestic violence survivors, families and individuals with significant health issues. An additional 2,000 individuals will receive vouchers to subsidize rent for 12 months. Context: Like many large cities, Dallas has grappled with ending homelessness and has seen increases in the unsheltered homeless population in recent years. A 2021 census was conducted during the winter storm, which skewed the number of unsheltered people. By the numbers: 4,105 people in Dallas County were experiencing homelessness during the annual point-in-time count in February. Of those, 1,244 were unsheltered. 37% of those counted had been unsheltered for three years or longer. The intrigue: Brodsky, MDHA's chair, is a bit of a fixer in Dallas. He's behind the $200 million redevelopment of Red Bird Mall in southwest Dallas, and he was tasked by former Mayor Mike Rawlings with leading the Dallas Animal Commission, which was aimed at addressing the city's loose dog problem. Our thought bubble: If anyone can bring together private interests to help address homelessness in Dallas, it's Brodsky.

Valley Morning Star - October 19, 2021

New majority proposes allowing outside ambulances in Harlingen

For nearly two years, City Commissioner Frank Puente has pushed to allow outside ambulance companies to offer residents choices when it comes to calling for help. During most of that time, the city’s previous commission stood behind an ordinance giving the South Texas Emergency Care Foundation exclusive rights to provide ambulance service within the city limits. After the May election shifted its balance of power, the commission’s new majority is apparently backing Puente’s push to open the city to ambulance companies offering non-emergency transport service. However, STEC’s warning competition in the lucrative non-emergency transport business would eat into its revenue stream, forcing the nonprofit to cut into its emergency medical services — a move that could lead the city to help fund emergency transports.

Now, Puente and Commissioner Richard Uribe are proposing commissioners amend the ordinance to scrap the clause offering STEC its exclusive service rights during a meeting Wednesday. For months, Puente has argued some of STEC’s non-emergency responses have slowed while many ambulances have waited hours for short-staffed hospitals to open patient beds during the coronavirus pandemic. That’s led some residents to wait for ambulances to respond to non-emergency calls, he said. “We need to remove this ordinance to allow other ambulatory services,” he said Monday, describing STEC as a “monopoly.” Meanwhile, STEC argues a move to open the city to outside ambulance companies offering non-emergency transport would cut $600,000 to $1.2 million in revenue, forcing the company to lay off 14 employees, Puente said. “I think that’s a scare tactic,” he said. “Their answer is unsatisfactory. I’m not concerned about their bottom line. My concern is optional services the citizens should have.”

National Stories

The Hill - October 20, 2021

Dems hit crossroads on voting rights

Democrats are about to reach a new political crossroads on voting rights as the Senate gears up for a procedural vote Wednesday that is doomed to failure. The vote to proceed to the bill would require 60 votes in the Senate, meaning 10 Republicans would have to join with all 50 Democrats to overcome a filibuster. Yet Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made clear that Republicans will not help Democrats move forward on legislation that many in the GOP believe would cost Republicans in future elections. Another failure would set up more disappointment for Democrats, who feel they have little to show from having elected President Biden to the White House and winning majorities in the House and Senate.

Centrist Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has been talking to Republicans to try to find a way forward on the Freedom to Vote Act, which does not go as far as earlier legislation known as the For the People Act. But there have been no serious signs of progress despite hopeful notes when the pared-down bill was first unveiled in September that it might garner enough GOP support to avoid a filibuster. As a result, there’s a growing realization among Democrats that their hopes of taking action on voting rights are essentially hopeless unless their brethren in the Senate decide to gut the filibuster to pass both the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And their worries about what that would mean are heightened as states with GOP governors and legislatures move forward with bills that impose new restrictions on voting that Democrats broadly see as hurting their core voting blocs, including Black and Hispanic voters. Democrats are also worried they are running out of time given Biden’s falling approval rating and the conventional wisdom in political Washington that they could lose their House majority in next year’s midterms.

Washington Post - October 19, 2021

Fed chief’s financial disclosures fuel political clash over Fed nominees

As the White House stays mum about who should run the Federal Reserve, opponents of Chair Jerome H. Powell have expanded their attacks on his record, with the latest push revolving around his financial activity during the covid crisis. The attention on Powell comes as the Fed grapples with broader questions over what types of personal activity in the markets should — and should not — be allowed. Over the past month, a set of stock trading scandals resulted in two Fed leaders exiting their posts, plus an independent inspector general investigation probing whether the officials’ behavior violated ethics rules and the law. Now, the Fed’s stock trading issues and the political clashes over who Biden should make Fed chair appear to be colliding. Some on the left argue that Powell holds ultimate responsibility for the Fed’s ethics problems, and that Powell should never have been engaged in the markets while Fed policy was so entrenched in fighting the covid recession. Others say the fixation on Powell’s financial history has been motivated by political mudslinging. And they say it ultimately distracts from and undermines the Fed’s core challenge of how to improve its rules moving forward.

“Not all transactions are created equal,” said Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, government affairs manager at the Project on Government Oversight. “[Powell] in particular has this very special and idiosyncratic place in all of this … Even if what he did in this particular case may not have actually been an example of anything nefarious, he needs to be extremely careful and extremely judicious in the ways he does these things.” Scrutiny over the financial activities of Fed officials ripped open after the Wall Street Journal and other outlets first reported on trades made last year by Robert Kaplan, former head of the Dallas Fed, and Eric Rosengren, who ran the Boston Fed. Kaplan’s trading activity included 27 individual stocks, funds or alternative asset holdings, each valued at over $1 million. Rosengren’s trading activities were on a smaller top-line scale but drew scrutiny for stakes in four separate real estate investment trusts at a time when he was speaking about his concerns for the commercial real estate sector. Both officials left their posts in September over the trading behavior. Earlier this month, Bloomberg News reported on trades made by Fed Vice Chair Richard Clarida that were made the day before the Fed said it would “act as appropriate to support the economy” in February 2020. The Fed has since announced an independent review by its inspector general over whether that behavior complied with ethics rules and the law. Powell himself has said the central bank’s existing guidelines are clearly inadequate “to the task of really sustaining the public’s trust in us” and that no one at the Fed “is happy to be in this situation.”

Washington Post - October 19, 2021

White House has weighed tapping National Guard to address mounting supply chain backlog

White House officials have explored in recent weeks whether the National Guard could be deployed to help address the nation’s mounting supply chain backlog, three people with knowledge of the matter said. The idea appears unlikely to proceed as of now, the people said, but reflects the extent to which internal administration deliberations about America’s overwhelmed supply chain have sparked outside-the-box proposals to leverage government resources to address the issue. The people involved in discussions stressed the White House has looked at the option as part of its due diligence in assessing all potential ways to address the backlog, which has slowed down imports and shipping all over the country. One person with knowledge of the matter said the White House has not considered activating the National Guard at a federal level but could instead work through states to deploy service members.

Major questions remain unresolved as to how the National Guard could be deployed, given the extent of the logistical challenges. White House officials have weighed whether members of the guard could drive trucks amid a shortage of operators, or if they could be used to help unload packages and other materials at ports or other clogged parts of the supply chain. As part of the review, White House officials have studied what kinds of driver’s licenses are held by National Guard members and if they would be sufficient to deploy them as truckers without hurting their ability to fulfill their existing responsibilities to the guard, the people said. The discussions have involved senior members of President Biden’s economic team, as well as those tasked with addressing supply chain bottlenecks at the Transportation Department, the people said. At least one private sector company has also raised the idea with the White House. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations that have not yet been made public. The supply chain bottleneck has emerged as a major challenge for Biden as concerns mount about the coming holiday shopping season. The backlog has been caused primarily by a spike in demand and changing economic behavior during the coronavirus pandemic.

Los Angeles Times - October 20, 2021

Migrants make increasingly dangerous journeys to enter California through the coast

U.S. border agents found a dead migrant on an abandoned panga, or fishing boat, in Carlsbad in April. A month later, a cabin cruiser, overloaded with three dozen migrants, crashed into a reef near Point Loma, killing three people. Then, after a boat capsized near Encinitas in July, two migrants were hospitalized with hypothermia. Customs and Border Protection agents stopped more migrants at sea in 2020 than during the previous three years, according to the latest CBP data. Apprehensions along the Pacific coast drove that increase — to 766 stops last year from 44 in fiscal 2017. Encounters at sea are still substantially lower than those on land, but experts say the shift to maritime crossings — in response to restrictive border policies and the devastation from COVID-19 across the hemisphere — is amplifying the danger these migrants face as they seek to reach the United States.

Since Oct. 1, 2020, agents in the CBP's San Diego region, which stretches along the California coast from Imperial Beach to the Oregon border, have intercepted more than 330 marine vessels with 1,751 people. The number encompasses the migrants intercepted and U.S. citizens suspected of smuggling them. Border officials acknowledged in an August news release the movement northward of smugglers along the California coast. Recently, agents have stopped boats farther north up the coast, near Long Beach, Catalina Island, Malibu and Santa Barbara. Early Monday, a 30-foot fishing boat landed on the beach in Ventura County with 21 Mexican migrants and one Guatemalan migrant, a CBP spokesperson said. One of the three people who drowned in the cabin cruiser crash in May was Maria Eugenia Chavez Segovia, a 41-year-old single mother of two. It was her fifth attempt at crossing the border. Chavez had made three attempts by land. Smugglers priced a successful crossing at $14,000. But each time, border agents had returned her to Tijuana within a couple of hours. Back in Mexico, she would phone her younger sister, who lived in Salinas, to let her know she was safe. After her third attempt by land, she told her sister she didn’t think she would make it over the border without getting caught. For an extra $4,000, the smugglers suggested a sea crossing. In late April, Chavez got on a boat for the first time with nine other migrants. But the group was intercepted at sea and returned to Mexico. Afterward, she told her sister: “It was scary, hermana. But they say it’s safe and that I’ll make it on the next try.”

Politico - October 19, 2021

Crypto investing wins SEC approval, triggering consumer group uproar

The Securities and Exchange Commission is beginning to bless the first widely available investment funds that track Bitcoin, opening a rift with watchdog groups who argue increased exposure to the volatile market puts consumers at risk. The SEC has signaled that it won't block industry proposals to launch exchange-traded funds based on Bitcoin futures contracts as regulatory deadlines come to pass this month. When the first fund begins trading on the New York Stock Exchange early this week, it will be a landmark moment for the booming cryptocurrency market. The emerging controversy around the SEC's approval of the funds underscores the broader political tensions that regulators are facing as they grapple with how to impose safeguards on the red-hot market. The funds would address growing demand from investors who want exposure to the rising value of Bitcoin.

The move is stirring rare tensions between investor advocates and SEC Chair Gary Gensler, who has been long hailed by consumer groups and progressive lawmakers as a tough regulator willing to challenge the finance industry. The same groups now warn that giving individual investors a greater ability to tap into cryptocurrency is dangerous because of its lack of regulation. Gensler himself has described the underlying market as the “Wild West,” rife with fraud and abuse. It’s also prone to intense volatility, with Bitcoin’s price up 440 percent from a year ago. "Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have already sucked an insane amount of money from the real economy," said Bart Naylor, financial policy advocate at the consumer group Public Citizen. "Enabling more gambling under the banner of the SEC debases what’s supposed to be the gold standard of world securities markets oversight." The SEC declined to comment on the fate of the fund applications and the brewing criticism. "We need to see where the SEC comes down on this," said Phillip Basil, director of banking policy for Better Markets, which advocates for tougher finance industry oversight. "But we’re concerned that simply layering a new complex product over an insufficiently regulated underlying asset raises a host of investor protection and market stability issues."

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

78% of insurers reinstate COVID co-pays and deductibles, costing patients hundreds or even thousands

Nearly four out of five of the nation’s largest health insurers are no longer waiving co-pays and deductibles for COVID-19 treatments, requiring patients to pay hundreds, if not thousands of dollars if they are hospitalized for the disease, according to a new study. The Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, a partnership between two nonprofits to monitor the U.S. health system, surveyed the two biggest insurers in each state and found that 78 percent have reinstated out-of-pocket costs after waiving them earlier in the pandemic. Another 4 percent said they planned to reinstate co-pays and deductibles by the end of the month, and the remaining 12 percent by the end of the year. The remaining percentage did not specify a timeline. At least half the insurers ended their COVID treatment waivers in April, when vaccines became widely available. The largest insurers in Texas, UnitedHealthcare and Health Services Corp., the parent of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, ended their COVID-19 treatment waivers months before, in December and January respectively.

“Treatment is now covered in line with members’ benefits,” Blue Cross Blue Shield spokesperson James Campbell said in a statement. “However, we will continue to evaluate our policies as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve.” UnitedHealthcare did not respond to requests for comment. How much patients might have to pay for COVID treatments will depend on their insurers and plans, said Stacey Pogue, a senior policy analyst at Every Texan, an Austin think tank. Unlike vaccines and testing, the federal government has not issued guidelines on how much insurers need to cover for treatment, “Anyone who wants to understand how their coverage works would have to get the information from their plan,” Pogue said. “It’s complicated because there’s no standardization behind it.” Federal law requires private insurance plans to cover the entire cost for testing so long as the test is deemed medically appropriate. The U.S. government pre-paid for vaccines and required they be accessible at no out-of-pocket costs regardless of whether the individual is insured.

October 19, 2021

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

'The limitation of Donald Trump': Election audit bill fails to pass in Texas Legislature

Despite unusually heavy lobbying from former President Donald Trump, two elections bills that he pushed Gov. Greg Abbott to enact this fall are all but dead. One would have eased up the process for requesting an election audit, and another would have raised the penalty for the crime of illegal voting, a reversal of a provision that top Republican leaders said was accidentally included in a sweeping elections bill Republicans passed in the summer. Trump had zeroed in on the bills in messaging to his supporters, chiding both Abbott and House Speaker Dade Phelan for not doing enough to advance them. Despite Trump’s pleas and being called out in public, Abbott never put the audit bill on the call, stressing that his own efforts through the Secretary of State’s office would be sufficient. Even so, both bills passed quickly in the Senate in early October, but neither received a committee hearing in the House. The legislative session ends Tuesday.

“It’s clear the president was driving the narrative on much of this,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, political science professor at the University of Houston, adding that the failure of these bills “does show you the limitation of Donald Trump on these voting issues.” Phelan, who did not respond to a request for comment, has not voiced his opinion on the audit bill, but he has made his position clear on the illegal voting bill, saying he did not wish to “relitigate” a bill that had passed out of the chamber with majority support. The voting bill had been the focus of the Legislature since early this year, driving Democrats to flee the Capitol building, then the state, to deny Republicans the attendance needed to call a vote on it. The bill ultimately passed in late August after some Democrats broke rank and put an end to the walkout that had grabbed national headlines. That eight-month fixation on the one issue could also contribute to why the latest election-related bills flamed out, Rottinghaus said. “The Legislature, collectively, has voting fatigue,” he said. “We’ve seen this in the past before, like in the late 80s and early 2000s, there were these marathon special sessions typically over very divisive policy issues that created a sense that there was a diminishing return on being in session.”

Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

First lawsuit filed to challenge Republican redistricting plans for Texas

In a federal lawsuit filed Monday, a Latino-rights organization argued that all four Texas redistricting plans must be thrown out because the Republican-drawn maps illegally and unconstitutionally dilute the voting strength of Latinos. Coming out of the third special session of the Legislature, the maps setting new district boundaries for members of Congress, the Texas House, the Texas Senate and the State Board of Education have not yet been signed into law. But the lawsuit by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued that court intervention is needed because Republican lawmakers drew maps that ignored robust gains in the state's Latino population. The result, the lawsuit said, was political districts drawn in an intentionally discriminatory way to reduce Latino voting strength in areas across Texas.

"The new redistricting plans are an unlawful attempt to thwart the changing Texas electorate and should be struck down," said Nina Perales, MALDEF's vice president of litigation. The 2020 census revealed a dramatic demographic shift in Texas, which grew by 4 million people in the previous decade. While white Texans accounted for only 5% of that growth, Latinos accounted for 50%, the Census Bureau reported. "Based on recent demographic trends, the Texas State Data Center estimates that the Latino population of Texas will match the Anglo population in 2021," the lawsuit said. But the new maps, instead of creating additional districts to give Latino voters a chance to elect their candidates of choice, illegally diluted their power by packing Hispanic Texans into heavily Democratic districts or splitting communities into majority white districts, the lawsuit said.

Washington Post - October 19, 2021

Democrats to scale back Treasury’s IRS bank reporting plan amid GOP uproar

Senate Democrats on Tuesday will unveil a scaled-back version of a Biden administration proposal to crack down on wealthy tax cheats after conservative groups and the bank industry raised major privacy concerns, three people with knowledge of the coming announcement said. Initially, the Department of Treasury and Senate Democrats had proposed requiring financial institutions to provide the Internal Revenue Service with additional information on bank accounts with more than $600 in annual deposits or withdrawals. After a backlash, the new proposal will instead require the provision of additional information for accounts with more than $10,000 in annual deposits or withdrawals, a measure Democrats have been considering for weeks but have not formally endorsed, the people said. The revised version of the bank reporting proposal will also weaken its scope by exempting all wage income from counting toward the $10,000 threshold withdrawal, intending to ensure it applies to only larger account holders, the people said. The Biden administration has signed off on the changes and is expected to support the new plan, a potentially key source of new revenue to pay for Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar economic package. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a matter not yet made public.

The weakening of the reporting requirements reflects Democrats’ sensitivity to the increasingly explosive politics of the issue as Republicans, conservative groups and industry lobbyists attempted to label the initial proposal as representing a major expansion of snooping by the IRS into taxpayers’ private information. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has adamantly rejected this criticism, arguing the new reporting rules amount to an essentially technical set of changes that will only impact wealthy tax evaders. But even many Democrats privately concede that the proposal gave Republicans an opening to attack them on the issue, provoking a fury of opposition among conservative groups. Banks already report to the IRS information for the interest earned in their customers’ accounts. (Stockbrokers also already report dividends and capital gains of their customers to the IRS.) Treasury’s proposal is aimed at requiring banks to also report total deposits and withdrawals to the IRS as well. The totals would be reported once a year — not every time a transaction above a certain number has occurred. The provision is aimed at giving the IRS more visibility into the cash flow of the bank’s customers, especially businesses. Wage earners, who represent the vast majority of the American public, already have their wages reported to the IRS on their W-2 forms. Treasury wants additional data for Americans earning business income as well, although exactly which accounts should be subject to the new rules has been the subject of a fierce debate. White House officials believe that the IRS could better target tax evasion if they have access to the way money flows in and out of accounts.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2021

Carroll trustees take no action on teacher reprimand; unrest swirls over Holocaust remark

Parents, teachers and students pleaded with Carroll school trustees on Monday to reverse a previous vote to reprimand a fourth grade teacher after a parent filed a grievance alleging that her daughter was bullied after she brought home an anti-racist book from the classroom. On Oct. 4, trustees voted 3-2 to request that administrators place a reprimand letter in Rickie Farah’s personnel file although officials found no wrongdoing. After an executive session lasting almost two hours, trustees took no action on the reprimand. Barbara Johnson, whose grandson was a student in Farah’s class, told trustees that he got an inspiring letter encouraging him about his writing.

“Like many others in this town, I read the book ‘This Book is Anti-Racist’ (the book that was in Farah’s classroom); I wasn’t offended,” she said. “Teachers don’t feel supported, that’s not what we want.” Before the meeting started, board president Michelle Moore said, “I understand that there is confusion and anger and perhaps fear. We can’t rewind the past couple of weeks ...” Teachers have been learning about new legal regulations, Moore said. “We as a district must work together to learn how we apply the law,” she said. Lindsey Garcia, a teacher in the school district, told trustees that the Oct. 4 vote to reprimand Farah left teachers feeling scared and insecure. “The Oct. 4 actions of the board caused me confusion and caused me to lose faith,” she said. Melody Anderson, another teacher, said her job is all about treating every child with love and respect. “I feel betrayed and unsupported by our school board after Oct. 4. Please help me feel supported again,” she said.

State Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

3rd special session ends with new political maps but no ban on vaccine mandates

The third special session of the Texas Legislature came to a close early Tuesday morning with lawmakers delivering on six of the 10 tasks assigned to them by Gov. Greg Abbott, including newly drawn political maps that could cement Republican power for the next decade. Republicans also passed a law to limit the participation of transgender athletes in public school sports, an effort led by religious conservatives that galvanized opposition from transgender Texans and their loved ones. But several of Abbott's big-ticket priorities floundered. Lawmakers did not prohibit COVID-19 vaccine mandates by Texas businesses or governments.

Nor did they grant the governor's request to return several voting offenses to felonies after the crimes were reduced to misdemeanors in the second special session — a change made with a House amendment to a sweeping elections bill. Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Attorney General Ken Paxon said they didn't notice the change until after senators voted to accept the revision and Abbott signed the elections bill into law during a celebration with supporters. But House Speaker Dade Phelan, a fellow Republican, declared the request dead on arrival in the House, saying it was among several thoughtful changes made to the elections bill. Another Abbott priority that passed the Senate but died in the House was a proposed amendment to the Texas Constitution that would have let judges deny bail to defendants facing charges for violent or sexual offenses. Senate Joint Resolution 1 fell short of the 100 votes needed in the House with a 75-38 vote.

Austin American-Statesman - October 19, 2021

U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett to run in new proposed congressional district based in Austin

Lloyd Doggett, the longtime Democratic congressman from Austin, is running to represent a newly formed U.S. House district that encompasses much of the city. Doggett, 75, currently represents the 35th District, which stretches from East Austin to San Antonio. But now his sights are set on the 37th District, one of two new congressional seats drawn with new census data. Texas was awarded two additional U.S. House seats because of the state's rapid population growth over the past decade. “The opportunity to once again represent the neighborhoods that I grew up in, that I’ve lived in and worked in for most of my life in the city that is the only city that I’ve ever called home — that really is very appealing,” Doggett told the American-Statesman. “Living on I-35 is very unappealing.”

Lawmakers still must sign off on the newly drawn congressional map, but the final draft of the proposed changes retains the new district Doggett hopes to represent. The district encompasses 55% of Travis County and 10% of Williamson County, and it was drawn to favor Democratic candidates. It stretches from the southern boundary of Travis County to just past its northern edge, stopping short of Cedar Park. Most of the district stretches west of Interstate 35 — extending to Lake Travis and including West Lake Hills — save for a portion of East Austin and some neighborhoods north of U.S. 290. “It's really a natural fit,” Doggett said of the new district. “It's reuniting neighborhoods that I was elected to represent when I was elected to represent 98% of Travis County.” Doggett has served in Congress since 1995, representing different portions of Central and South Texas. He has represented the 35th Congressional District since it was created in 2010 and previously represented the 25th and 10th districts. Before running for federal office, Doggett served in the Texas Senate for 12 years. He later was elected to be a justice on the Texas Supreme Court.

Axios - October 15, 2021

Texas abortion ban stumps businesses

Companies and CEOs are reluctant to speak out against Texas’ abortion ban because they fear there’s more to lose than gain. Why it matters: As the de facto fourth branch of government, CEOs face more pressure to drive social and political change. Abortion continues to be one of the hardest topics for companies to speak up about because it’s still emotionally and politically charged and closely related to religious views. Upsetting lawmakers in Texas, the second-biggest economy behind California, is another risk.

Driving the news: Four months after Gov. Greg Abbott signed his state’s law that bans abortion after about six weeks, more than 50 companies signed a statement opposing "policies that hinder people's health, independence and ability to fully succeed in the workplace." Comparatively, almost 200 signed a similar statement worded around “equality” in 2019 when Alabama and other Southern states signed restrictive abortion bans. State of play: Companies like Bumble, Uber and Lyft have set up or will provide relief and legal funds for people who might be impacted by the abortion ban — in part because the law affects their core business. Match Group CEO Shar Dubey set up a personal fund, saying this week at Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit that the company has a principle of avoiding politics that aren't relevant to the business but that she wanted to make a statement because it didn't sit right with her as a woman living in Texas.

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Supreme Court speeds review of Texas abortion law after fed seek freeze on enforcement

The U.S. Supreme Court signaled interest Monday in providing a quick review of Texas’ six-week abortion ban, giving abortion providers and the state until Thursday to argue whether they should or not. The order came shortly after the Justice Department filed an emergency application asking the court to halt enforcement of Senate Bill 8, which outsources enforcement to anyone willing to sue doctors or others who help a woman obtain an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The court already plans oral arguments Dec. 1 on a Mississippi ban that kicks in at 15 weeks — also long before the threshold set in Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark that stemmed from a Dallas County prosecution. Although the Supreme Court rebuffed efforts to prevent SB8 from taking effect, it has not ruled on its constitutionality. Roe held that women have the right to terminate a pregnancy until a fetus is viable outside the womb, roughly 22 to 24 weeks, making the Texas law an aggressive challenge to five decades of precedent.

On Monday, the Biden administration asked the high court to so something it refused to do just before SB8 took effect on Sept. 1: halt enforcement until federal courts sort out its legality. Abortions plummeted in Texas until Oct. 6, when a U.S. district judge in Austin halted enforcement on grounds it was a blatant violation of Roe. A panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling two days later and on Thursday, the 5th Circuit extended that order. The Justice Department announced Friday that it would ask the Supreme Court to vacate the appellate ruling, restoring the lower court injunction and allowing pre-viability abortions to resume in Texas. “For half a century, this Court has held that ‘a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability,’ ” the federal government argue in its filing on Monday. “S.B. 8 defies those precedents by banning abortion long before viability — indeed, before many women even realize they are pregnant,” the application reads. “But rather than forthrightly defending its law and asking this Court to revisit its decisions, Texas took matters into its own hands by crafting an ‘unprecedented’ structure to thwart judicial review.” Justice Samuel Alito, who handles legal emergencies out of the 5th Circuit, gave Texas until noon ET Thursday to respond to the Justice Department request. Soon afterward, the court issued an order setting the same deadline for Texas and abortion providers challenging its law to provide input on whether the court should take up the case.

San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

Alamo historians now question story about 'John,' a slave said to have died in the famous battle

The Alamo’s official website lists “John,” a slave, as among the 189 known defenders who died in the 1836 battle at the fort. The Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online says John belonged to Francis L. Desauque and was a clerk in Desauque’s Matagorda County store near the coast. Both were at the Alamo before Desauque was sent out for supplies right before the start of a 13-day siege. John is said to have died at the Alamo on March 6, 1836. Desauque was killed in the executions at Goliad three weeks later. But a historical researcher who has meticulously tried to name everyone inside the walls of the Alamo that year believes John is the product of an 1836 printing error and people’s imaginations. “I don’t think the guy really existed,” said unofficial Alamo historian Bill Groneman, a retired New York City arson investigator who lives in Kerrville. He said the Alamo website and online handbook should remove any references to “John.”

But Carey Latimore, a Trinity University history professor specializing in African American studies, said the entries on John should be rewritten, not removed. He believes John could have been Anglo or an enslaved Black person, but he almost certainly was not a freed Black and was not necessarily at the Alamo when the battle occurred. “There are certain desires to make him Black, to make him a defender of the Alamo, to make him a free negro, which would mean he’s perhaps choosing to be there. We have to let the evidence drive us, not our own desires,” said Latimore, who serves as a history adviser on the Alamo Citizens Advisory Committee, Most people familiar with the Alamo have heard of Joe, William Barret Travis’ enslaved servant who survived the battle, gave eyewitness accounts and escaped bondage a year later. Joe said other Black individuals were present during the 13-day siege and battle, which concluded with the death of up to 257 soldiers and volunteers in the fort. About 20 women, children and slaves survived, although one enslaved Black woman is said to have been killed in the crossfire. Alamo devotees who have heard of John have long thought he also was among the dead. But Groneman has publicly questioned that narrative for nearly a decade. In a 2012 article in The Alamo Journal, a publication of The Alamo Society, an international group of aficionados of the siege and battle, he wrote that “collectively we have built an actual person out of nothing.”

San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

Human smugglers using TikTok, other social media to recruit drivers for Texas runs

The TikTok video shows three men, presumably undocumented immigrants, lying side by side in what appears to be the backseat of a vehicle. “Donde estan los choferes ke se la rifan?” the ad says in Spanish and slang: Where are the drivers willing to take risks? It promises instant payment for “the job” as it flashes dollar signs. Another video ad shows hands spreading out a stack of cash and images of immigrants getting into a pickup truck under a bed cover and into a car’s trunk. “Drivers needed!!! DM to make some rocks!!!” the post says. Both have several replies from TikTok users seeking more information, and they are told to send direct messages, or to go to other social media or communication applications, like Snapchat or WhatsApp, for details.

Increasingly, smugglers are turning to social media to recruit drivers because of its immense reach, and their pitches have been drawing people from the interior of Texas — even from out of state — to the southern border. And that has law enforcement officials concerned. “It used to be you meet somebody at a bar,” Craig Larabee said. He’s deputy special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in San Antonio, which is responsible for 500 miles of Texas’ border from Del Rio to Brownsville. “You don’t have to do that anymore,” Larabee said. On social media, “they can reach out to different communities and reach out to all walks of life.” Larabee and other law officers say smugglers play up the rewards — like the promise of easy money. But they downplay the risks — like that human smuggling is a federal crime that can land you in prison, or worse. “They’re ignoring the fact that there’s a potential for accidents, and people die,” Larabee said. He noted many youths are unfamiliar with the terrain of the border region, and when they are loaded down with more bodies than their vehicles can handle, and then run from law enforcement, it’s “a recipe for disaster.”

San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

Australia responds to Sen. Ted Cruz's criticism of vaccine mandate: 'Glad we are nothing like you'

A top Australian official called out U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz on Twitter over the weekend after the Texas Republican accused the country of “COVID tyranny” as it imposes new vaccine requirements. “I love the Aussies. Their history of rugged independence is legendary; I’ve always said Australia is the Texas of the Pacific,” Cruz tweeted. “The COVID tyranny of their current government is disgraceful & sad.” Australia’s Northern Territory rolled out new vaccine mandates last week, which require workers who interact with the public to be fully vaccinated by Dec. 24 or face a $5,000 fine.

Michael Gunner, the chief minister for the region, responded to Cruz in a statement posted last Sunday, saying the Texas Republican knows “nothing about us.” “Nearly 70,000 Texans have tragically died from COVID. There have been zero deaths in the territory,” Gunner’s statement said. “We don’t need your lectures, thanks mate.” Fewer than 1,500 Australians have died from COVID since the pandemic began, none of them in the Northern Territory, a more remote portion of the nation home to Outback deserts. “We’ve done whatever it takes to protect the Territory. That’s kept us safe AND free,” Gunner said. “We have been in lockdown for just eight days in 18 months. Our businesses and schools are all open. Did you know that?” The exchange comes as Texas has moved to ban vaccine mandates, with Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month issuing an order prohibiting even private businesses from requiring employees or customers to be vaccinated. President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has issued requirements that federal contractors and businesses with 100 or more employees require vaccines, a move Cruz has blasted as “illegal.”

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

As Collin County trends purple, Republicans draw U.S. House boundaries that bolster GOP power

The Legislature’s GOP mapmakers are playing defense in Collin County, redrawing its fast-changing congressional seat to thwart recent Democratic momentum and make it safely Republican for years to come. Former President Donald Trump won Congressional District 3 by just one percentage point in 2020. But Republican lawmakers this year redrew Plano U.S. Rep. Van Taylor’s seat such that Trump would have carried it by 14 points. That district, which includes parts of Plano, Frisco and McKinney, would take in most of more conservative Hunt County to the east if the Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott approve the map. The GOP lawmakers’ redraw tracks with their strategy to keep control of some suburban seats that are trending toward Democrats — like Taylor’s, with its quickly diversifying population. Shoring up those districts could nudge politics further to the right, as Republican incumbents focus on fending off challengers during the 2022 primary elections, political watchers say.

In 2017, as a state senator, Taylor was ranked the most conservative member of the upper chamber. But the sophomore congressman’s more moderate record in Washington has provoked some criticism among the furthest right wing of the state party. Since the redder district was proposed late last month, at least two primary challengers have announced runs for Taylor’s seat, including one who blasted the incumbent for supporting a bill that would have created an outside commission to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Republicans’ bolstering of the North Texas district is a blow to Democrats who thought they had Taylor on the ropes. In 2020, Taylor held on to his seat, which was targeted by national Democrats, with 55% of the vote. People of color have fueled the state’s population boom over the last decade, with much of the growth concentrated in cities and suburban areas, census data show. Collin mirrored that trend, posting the ninth largest population growth rate since 2010 among Texas counties, according to 2020 data.

San Antonio Express-News - October 15, 2021

Luke Metzger: Biden must end methane's horror show

(Luke Metzger is the executive director of Environment Texas, a nonprofit advocate for clean air, clean water, parks and wildlife and a livable climate.) For more than a century, an invisible, floating menace has haunted the Texas oil fields, silently terrorizing our people and property. This demon goes by the name methane, a gas incarnated from ancient dinosaur bones. It resides deep beneath the Earth’s surface where, like in many horror films before it, it frustratingly escapes thanks to an unwitting, short-sighted human accomplice. Horror film aficionados know well the dangers of digging up old bones and breathing new life into them. Unfortunately, the oil industry refuses to heed the horrific lessons we’ve learned about methane, the main ingredient of natural gas, that have left us all paying a big price. We’ve known for a long time that when you drill for oil, methane comes up with it. If it’s not managed correctly by industry, this sneaky gas finds any way it can to escape, seeping through holes in pipelines or compressor stations and making its way to our atmosphere.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that, in the first 20 years after release, is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and causing the greenhouse effect. Sometimes, oil companies will just push the monster out the door, directly venting it to our skies. Other times, they will try to destroy it, sending it in pipes to a tall pole with a flame on it, a process known as flaring. But incinerating it just turns it into a different greenhouse gas — carbon dioxide. And often the companies forget to light the flares, so pure methane is released. For a long time, many of methane’s victims have been calling for help. Unfortunately, the oil industry has largely failed to contain the beast, despite saying it will. And Texas regulators and former President Donald Trump, all of whom have received massive campaign contributions from these oil companies, have been complicit in failing to stomp out this menacing gaseous phantom, even as it grows bigger and bigger. Mercifully, since taking office, President Joe Biden has been working to slay these toxic demons. On his first day in office, he directed the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to review methane rules rolled back by the Trump administration. And earlier this summer, he worked with Congress to reverse the Trump rollbacks and reaffirm the federal government’s obligation to reduce methane from the oil and gas sector.

San Antonio Express-News - October 15, 2021

Mexican farmworkers sue South Texas labor contractor for unpaid wages, 'dangerous' housing conditions

Seven migrant farmworkers from Mexico allege in a federal lawsuit filed in San Antonio that they were shorted wages, stiffed on travel expenses and placed in a “squalid” and “dilapidated” labor camp by a South Texas contractor. The group seeks at least $250,000 in damages from Pablo Francisco Cantu, both individually and doing business as Cantu Harvesting. The business is based in Edinburg. “Cantu should not be allowed to continue to grossly underpay his workers or to subject them to unsafe, unsanitary and undignified housing conditions,” said Maxwell Dismukes, a staff attorney for Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which represents the workers. They seek to certify the lawsuit as a collective action so similarly situated workers can join the litigation as plaintiffs.

Dismukes said it’s difficult to estimate the potential number of plaintiffs. But the lawsuit covers the five years from 2017 to 2021, when, he said, Cantu asked the federal government to bring in as many as 80 workers at a time for each harvest season through the H-2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers. The workers primarily harvested pumpkins and watermelons in Edinburg, Dilley, Comanche, Midland and Plains. Cantu’s business supplies seasonal and temporary laborers to owners and operators of produce farms and packing sheds. Pablo Cantu was not aware of the lawsuit and therefore had no immediate comment, a representative said Thursday. It was filed Saturday. Cantu told workers he paid them at a “piece rate” based on the weight of the fruit they harvested, Dismukes said. “But workers weren’t able to verify that because they were never told how much the fruit they harvested weighed,” he said. “When Cantu paid the workers, he just gave them envelopes of cash, with no pay stubs, and no explanation of how he arrived at the amounts he paid them.”

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Todd H. Votteler: If you think the Texas electrical grid is fragile, take a look at our water infrastructure

(Todd H. Votteler is editor in chief of the Texas Water Journal and Texas+Water.) In August, during the second special session of the 87th Texas Legislature, the Texas Capitol flooded. After the water stopped cascading down the pink granite walls inside the Capitol extension, the Legislature resumed its deliberations. The August flood was preceded by February’s severe winter storm. Hundreds of Texans died in the cold and dark after days without power and, in some places, without water. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the electric grid was four minutes and 37 seconds from a catastrophic collapse potentially requiring months to fix and possibly a partial evacuation of the state. More than 15 million Texans were told to boil water to make it safe to drink. Others had no water service at all, as the combined power outages and frigid temperatures knocked out normally safe, reliable water suppliers.

Six months later, a survey of Texas water utilities showed that 79% of them are still concerned that the reliability of the Texas energy grid could affect their operations. Whether it is a week without running water in the dead of winter, or an August flash flood at the Capitol, Texas’ water infrastructure is struggling. Yet the aging water infrastructure also struggles to attract the attention of Texas’ leaders. Almost as if timed for the aftermath of February’s storm, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2021 state and national infrastructure report cards, which are sober nonpartisan assessments of infrastructure conditions. Overall, America got a C- and Texas got a C. Put lightly, this is not good. While those who provide Texans with water generally do their best with what they have, our water infrastructure is the backbone of Texas’ economy, the ninth-largest in the world. Even so, partial solutions to Texas’ failing grades could be on the horizon. After decades of neglect and lip service, Texas water infrastructure could finally get a much-needed infusion of funding from the federal government. The first opportunity is the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which is designed to address water infrastructure needs, among many others. The Infrastructure Act also encourages using nonstructural or green infrastructure solutions, such as restoring floodplains and wetlands.

San Antonio Express-News - October 19, 2021

Texas Legislature strikes deal to shift Alamo and Lackland AFB to new congressional districts

Lackland Air Force base and the Alamo will both be moved to different congressional districts under a compromise redistricting plan that won final approval from the Texas Legislature late Monday night. Despite pleas from San Antonio Democrats, the Texas House and Senate agreed to a deal reached Sunday night that will take Lackland Air Force Base and Port San Antonio out of the 20th Congressional District held now by U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio. Those facilities will both move into the 23rd Congressional District represented by U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio. Meanwhile, the Alamo, The Alamodome and residents in Historic Gardens and Denver Heights will all be moving from the 35th Congressional District, represented by Rep. Lloyd Doggett, to the 28th Congressional District based in Laredo and represented by Rep. Henry Cuellar.

In total, more than 60,000 people in Bexar County on the East Side are moving into Cuellar’s district. It’s all part of a redistricting plan that is expected to pass the Legislature by Tuesday — the final day of a special session that started Sept. 20. If the maps become law, they will go into effect in time for the 2022 elections. The Legislature is redrawing all of the state’s congressional maps with data from the 2020 U.S. Census, as required by law. The proposed map creates new congressional districts in 2022 for Houston and Austin — Texas is gaining two members of Congress because of its explosive growth since 2010 — while increasing the number of Texas Republicans likely to go to Congress. And it improves the re-election chances of virtually every Republican in the state’s delegation. Late Monday, the Texas House and Senate formally adopted the compromise plan. It now heads to Gov. Greg Abbott for his final approval in order to become law.

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

George W. Bush headlined Liz Cheney event in Dallas as anti-Trump Republicans rally to her aid

George W. Bush headlines a Dallas reception Monday to help embattled Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the daughter of his vice president whose outspoken support for Donald Trump’s impeachment cost her a House leadership post and, if Trump gets his way, her political future. The high-profile boost amounts to a clear rebuke of Trump, and a sign of the irreparable chasm between the GOP’s last two presidents. Cheney was one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump for instigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by a mob he had encouraged to somehow block Congress from certifying the victory of now-President Joe Biden. Trump has vowed retribution against each of those 10. His animosity toward Cheney is particularly intense, given that she was a member of the House GOP leadership team at the time and a scion of an establishment Republican family.

He has vowed to oust her from Wyoming’s sole congressional seat and is throwing his considerable weight within the party behind one of her rivals in next year’s primary. The invitation and host committee for Monday’s reception send an unmistakable signal of Bushworld circling wagons around Cheney. Her father, Dick Cheney, served two terms as Bush’s vice president and before that, as defense secretary under his late father, George H.W. Bush, the 41st president. Co-hosts include Karl Rove, Bush’s longtime strategist; former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Trump’s ambassador to NATO; Joe Straus, a former speaker of the Texas House; the executive director of the George W. Bush Institute, Holly Kuzmich, and the first director of Bush’s presidential library, Mark Langdale, Bush’s ambassador to Costa Rica. Campaign’s filings show $174,000 in donations to Cheney from Texans, starting a week after the deadly riot at the Capitol. Trump has expressed his deep displeasure.

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Dallas D.A. Creuzot: New law, named for Dallas exoneree Richard Miles, would have minimized evidence loss

The loss of 22.5 terabytes of Dallas police evidence this year wouldn’t have caused such a panic if a new state law had already been on the books, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot said. The law, named for a Dallas man wrongfully convicted of murder, requires police agencies to verify they turned over all evidence when filing cases with prosecutors. If police later discover more evidence, they must immediately turn it over, the new law mandates. After Dallas prosecutors discovered in July that a city IT employee deleted police evidence, Creuzot sent a notice to defense lawyers which set in motion public awareness. Prosecutors are combing through evidence, case-by-case, to make sure evidence wasn’t lost in cases preparing for trial, Creuzot said. Prosecutors and defense lawyers would have been saved the extra work and concern if the Richard Miles Act had been in place already, Creuzot said. The loss is equivalent to about 7,500 hours of HD video; about 6 million photos; or 150 million pages of Microsoft Word documents.

“If this isn’t a perfect example right in our faces of why this office went for two sessions in a row to get this passed,” Creuzot said. The Richard Miles Act is named for Miles, who wrongly spent 15 years in prison, after Dallas police did not turn over evidence to prosecutors that identified other suspects. He was exonerated in 2012. As of Thursday, Creuzot said his office has not identified any cases in which prosecutors were missing evidence that couldn’t be recovered. But it required a coordinated effort with police to peel through each case and verify they weren’t impacted, Creuzot said. The review is ongoing. “Even though the evidence may be there, it’s difficult to ascertain where it is,” Creuzot said. A man who was scheduled to stand trial on a murder charge, Jonathan Pitts, was released from jail with an ankle monitor in early August because prosecutors couldn’t immediately be sure his case wasn’t impacted. He is still out of jail awaiting trial. The Richard Miles Act , written by Sen. Royce West and Rep. Rafael Anchia, targets a longstanding habit of law enforcement agencies across the state presenting just enough evidence to get an indictment, but delivering more evidence later — sometimes on the eve of trial, said Creuzot, who advocated for the law’s passage.

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

What’s next for H-E-B in North Texas?

Now that H-E-B has started construction on its first two Dallas-Fort Worth stores, what comes next? The company announced in March that it’s making that big leap into Dallas-Fort Worth. In fall 2022, it will open its first two stores — one each in Plano and Frisco. It has also announced a store in McKinney that will open in spring 2023. H-E-B hasn’t said much more beyond that, but we know that it will take years for it to open stores throughout D-FW and into your neighborhood. We’ve put together an updated map of properties H-E-B owns and what we know about the company’s real estate plans.

Plano: H-E-B is selling a ground lease for a 1.27-acre pad in its parking lot facing Spring Creek Parkway next to the first H-E-B in Plano. That’s big enough for a building with a drive through. The rent starts out the first five years at $135,000 a year. The supermarket is under construction on the southwest corner of Preston Road and Spring Creek Parkway. Plano and Frisco: Both stores will have gasoline pumps in the parking lots. The Frisco store is being built on the northeast corner of Legacy Drive and Main Street. Many of H-E-B’s largest stores have leased spaces inside for facial spas, banks, jewelry retailers and other services. It may start offering Plano and Frisco front-of-store leases soon. Last month, James Avery opened inside an H-E-B in League City. (For the grocer’s 100th anniversary in 2004, the Kerrville-based jeweler made a H-E-B shopping cart charm.) As more malls close and are redeveloped, there may be more demand for those spaces inside the front of supercenters and supermarkets. McKinney: There’s no word yet on whether the third announced store will have gasoline pumps or EV charging stations. That McKinney store will be on the northeast corner of Custer Road and Eldorado Parkway.

Houston Chronicle - October 18, 2021

Advocates cheer Gulf wind proposal but say we shouldn't forget the birds and whales

Federal regulators are weighing a plan to lease parts of the Gulf of Mexico for offshore wind turbines as soon as late 2022, part of President Joe Biden’s goal to increase clean energy production as an alternative to burning fossil fuels. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland this week outlined the proposal, which also included potential development off the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines. The news here encouraged environmental advocates, who stress that climate change fueled by increasing greenhouse gases is a significant threat to people and animals. “We know we have to cut emissions as rapidly as possible,” said Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas. “That’s both for humanity, but also for the sake of wildlife.”

Still, in deciding where the turbines could go, these advocates have called on the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to keep in mind the creatures that live in, pass through and migrate over the Gulf. Among the species they highlighted was Rice’s Whale, of which there are thought to be fewer than 100 alive. Climate change has underscored the urgent need for alternative energy sources and to respect already-stressed wildlife, said Catherine Bowes, the National Wildlife Federation’s program director for offshore wind energy. Advocates believe that can be done with careful site selection and permitting requirements. “It’s really critical that their development occurs in a way that doesn’t further perpetuate these conservation crises,” Bowes said. “We want to see this industry be successful.” The bureau in June began asking for feedback on the idea of leasing parts of the Gulf for wind power. The concept previously seemed tenuous because of the inconsistent winds. The agency plans to prepare an environmental assessment before proposing where the turbines could go.

Houston Chronicle - October 18, 2021

Chris Tomlinson: Facebook puts profits over people because federal law protects it

London’s “The Sun” tabloid needed to sell more copies in 1970, so editors started publishing large photos of topless women inside the cover. Conservatives decried softcore pornography appearing in a newspaper, even if it was a tabloid. Feminists called the images of young, buxom women misogynistic. But as the publisher anticipated, sales jumped dramatically. Soon competing tabloids were also running photos of so-called Page 3 Girls. The “Sunday Sport” weekly still runs topless women on page three, but no daily has run them since 2019. Tabloids still run glamor shots of young women, but they are all clothed these days. The tabloids profiteering from the objectification of women came to mind when I read about Facebook’s publishing conundrum. According to a whistleblower and the thousands of documents she leaked to The Wall Street Journal, executives know they damage society, but they are addicted to the profits.

The most disturbing collection of internal Facebook documents reveal that executives know the image-driven subsidiary Instagram is incredibly toxic to teen girls, a vulnerable population prone to developing lifelong eating disorders and self-esteem issues. “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls,” an internal Instagram report from 2019 said, according to The Wall Street Journal. Another study a year later reached the same conclusion. “Thirty-two percent of teen girls said that when they felt bad about their bodies, Instagram made them feel worse,” researchers hired by Facebook reported to top executives in a March 2020 slide presentation. “Comparisons on Instagram can change how young women view and describe themselves.” Among teens who reported suicidal thoughts, 13 percent of British users and 6 percent of American users traced them to Instagram, another internal presentation viewed by the Journal showed. Instagram is not a glossy magazine for adult women, like Vogue. It is an online publication leveraged by advertisers to influence young people, especially teen girls. Facebook has an equally destructive influence on middle-aged people. Whether it is sowing distrust in our democracy, spreading lies about COVID or creating communities for bigots, Facebook’s laissez-faire attitude about disinformation and hate is demonstrably promoting alienation.

Houston Chronicle - October 19, 2021

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Colin Powell was a hero, a soldier, and author of a tragic mistake

In December 2000, just three days after accepting his victory after that year’s contentious election, President-elect George W. Bush announced that America’s next — and its first Black — secretary of state would be Colin Powell, the retired four-star U.S. Army general and former national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “His entire life has prepared him to fulfill the responsibilities that he will soon hold,” Bush said during a ceremony at an elementary school in Crawford. Powell had served in the Army for 35 years, had been Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. His status as an ultimate professional had allowed him to stand almost outside of partisan politics and his status as America’s first Black secretary of state offered at last hope of an America capable of judging its citizens’ merits without regard to their race.

“Gen. Powell is an American hero, an American example, and a great American story,” Bush said. “It’s a great day when a son of the South Bronx succeeds to the office first held by Thomas Jefferson.” For his part, Powell, the son of immigrants from Jamaica, merely noted that given his big-city roots, he was glad the ceremony was being held at the school rather than at Bush’s nearby ranch. “I don’t care what you say, those cows look dangerous,” he joked. Powell’s remarkable story ended Monday when he died at age 84 of COVID-19. He had been fully vaccinated, but according to a family spokeswoman, a long fight with multiple myeloma, a cancer that forms in plasma cells, had compromised his immune system. His death is a great loss for a country that can use all the heroes it can get, and one that still finds itself riven by race and class, despite both Powell’s own service and that of the man Powell would later cross party lines in 2008 to support as the nation’s first Black president. And yet Powell’s story also is a cautionary tale about the ease with which men and women who serve presidents can lose their way when loyalty outshines judgment. It’s an old tale in Washington, where Robert McNamara helped Lyndon Johnson, another president from Texas, prosecute the Vietnam War long after he and Johnson had given up on winning it.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 19, 2021

Fort Worth misses out on Texas’ new congressional seats in map headed to Gov. Abbott

A congressional map that puts two new U.S. House of Representative seats in the Austin and Houston areas is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for approval. The two seats were allocated to Texas following the 2020 census, increasing the state’s number of representatives in the U.S. House to 38 from 36. Tarrant County was among the fastest growing in the country in the past decade and experts had speculated North Texas could be in the mix for one of the new seats. However, when draft maps were released the districts were drawn in the Harris and Travis County areas. “Republicans didn’t ask themselves, ‘Where was most of the new population growth? Let’s put the districts there,’“ said SMU political science professor Cal Jillson. “They asked themselves, where can we put the new districts that will allow us to create the greatest number of Republican-leaning U.S. House districts statewide.”

Census figures released in August showed Tarrant County gaining about 301,600 new residents over the past decade, the fifth most of all U.S. counties. Harris County gained the most new residents, Bexar County the sixth most and Travis County the ninth most. The new map creates 25 districts that would have elected the Republican candidate in the 2020 presidential and U.S. Senate races, election data from the Texas Legislative Council shows. Under the current boundaries, 22 districts elected President Donald Trump, a Republican, and 23 elected Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Congressional District 37 in central Texas would have elected MJ Hegar, a Democrat, in the November general election. Congressional District 38 in Harris County would have elected Cornyn. In Tarrant County, five of seven congressional districts would have elected Cornyn over Hegar. The compromise version of the congressional map was filed Sunday night after the Senate didn’t agree to an amended proposal that passed out of the House. A conference committee composed of members from both chambers was formed to draft the latest version that’s headed to Abbott. The House and Senate approved the conference committee version of the map late Monday.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 18, 2021

Fort Worth-area barbecue restaurant named No. 1 on Texas Monthly ’50 Best’ list

A barbecue restaurant on a winding south Tarrant County back road is ranked No. 1 in the state in the new Texas Monthly magazine, making Fort Worth and Arlington the new capitals of Texas brisket.

Goldee’s Barbecue, which opened three weeks before the 2020 pandemic in a half-century-old rural location that had been dark for five years, now serves the state’s best pork ribs, spectacular brisket and “food that’s close to perfection,” the magazine reported Monday in listing its “50 Best Barbecue Joints.” Five other local restaurants made the “50 Best” list. Panther City BBQ, 201 E. Pennsylvania Ave. near downtown Fort Worth, was ranked No. 10, praised for its “brisket elote,” a cup of creamed corn layered with brisket and sauces. Also listed among the top 50: Hurtado Barbecue, 205 E. Front St., Arlington; Dayne’s Craft Barbecue, 2735 W. Fifth St., Fort Worth; Smoke-A-Holics BBQ, 1417 Evans Ave., Fort Worth; and Zavala’s Barbecue, 421 W. Main St., Grand Prairie.

Texas Newsroom - October 18, 2021

Texas Attorney General sets up unit for voter fraud claims in November election

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is launching a new unit to investigate potential claims of voter fraud during the Nov. 2 election. The Republican attorney general’s announcement Monday coincided with the first day of early voting for the Texas constitutional amendment election. Paxton’s office says additional staff and resources will focus on ensuring security and transparency even though there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the state. Paxton said in a statement that he’s establishing the unit, “to monitor this season’s local elections -- which, even though they’re local, must be run in accordance with state law.” The Attorney General’s office already operates a year-round “Election Integrity Division.” The latest effort includes a new email address where the public can share allegations: electionintegrity2021@oag.texas.gov. The initiative is drawing criticism from voting rights groups in Texas.

“What is missing from this announcement is the typical language that you normally hear from elected leaders, which is celebrating the fact that people can vote, and encouraging people to vote and even providing basic information about how to vote,” says James Slattery, senior attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. Slattery says the new unit furthers Paxton’s efforts to undermine trust in elections and discourage voting. “It is particularly troubling with this attorney general, who has a long record now of abusing the power of his office to spread conspiracy theories about voter fraud and intimidate voters, especially people of color.” Paxton is a close political ally of former President Donald Trump and unsuccessfully petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the results of the 2020 election that Trump lost. A U.S. House committee tasked with investigating the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, is examining communications between Paxton and Trump administration officials in the months leading up to the insurrection. Paxton spoke at Trump's rally in Washington, D.C., that day, before a violent mob, prompted by false voter fraud claims, attempted to stop Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden as the next president. Trump has endorsed Paxton in his bid for reelection next year. He’s facing several Republican primary opponents, including Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush and former Texas Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman.

Axios - October 17, 2021

RNC woos Texas Latinos

The Republican National Committee is working to court more conservative Hispanic voters in south Texas, even as the state's GOP majority uses redistricting to blunt demographic changes that should be empowering Hispanic representation and helping Democrats. Driving the news: The RNC is opening a Hispanic community center in San Antonio on Monday. It's the third such outreach center the party has opened in south Texas this year. The effort comes as Republicans try to win back a handful of seats to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2022. It also follows a weekend in which the Texas House approved a plan — on a party-line vote — that would reduce the number of Hispanic-majority districts statewide to seven from eight. That change will help preserve GOP dominance in the state for the next decade.

The other side: The Democratic National Committee has launched a nationwide, $25 million initiative aimed at boosting voter protection and education among communities of color. It includes litigation efforts against voting restrictions, and online tools helping identify who’s impacted by the laws, according to spokesperson Lucas Acosta. In the Rio Grande Valley, the organization is investing in combating right-wing disinformation among Hispanics, he added. Why it matters: While people of color overwhelmingly voted for Joe Biden during the 2020 election, Republicans made gains with some Latinos. These RNC centers are intended to serve as hubs for candidate recruitment, casual gatherings and GOTV efforts. The efforts will be in tandem with broader messaging tailored to U.S.-born Latinos, immigrants and college-age voters. Republicans are seeking to appeal to Latino voters on conservative values, border security, the economy and opposition to socialism. RNC communications director Danielle Alvarez says the focus is on having "meaningful conversations that will help us win elections but also grow our party and better represent these communities."

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

Noted Texas personal injury lawyer Thomas J. Henry expands law practice with Irving office

Thomas J. Henry, one of Texas’ most well-known personal injury lawyers, is expanding his presence in Dallas-Fort Worth with a new law office in Irving. His San Antonio-based firm will occupy 27,000 square feet in Irving, Henry said in an announcement Monday. The office at 6031 Connection Drive is expected to employ up to 200 people within two years. “The opening of our newest office ... marks a new chapter for the firm as we expand into North Texas,” Henry said. “We are excited to continue our aggressive growth pattern and help even more clients in Texas and beyond.” Thomas J. Henry Law bills itself as the largest personal injury law firm in Texas, with 200 lawyers and a support staff of 350 dedicated to winning jury verdicts and settlements for those injured in car and truck accidents, workplace accidents and recalled products. It has offices in San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Austin and Dallas.

The firm has won huge awards for clients in recent years, including a $1.25 billion judgment in a sexual assault case, $50 million and $35 million verdicts in wrongful death cases involving trucking companies, and multiple $10 million-plus settlements in medical malpractice lawsuits. Henry also is known for being flamboyant, including throwing a $6 million Quinceañera for his model-actress daughter Maya that became a viral internet hit when rapper Pitbull and singer Nick Jonas performed. His family’s lifestyle was the subject of a 2017 reality TV series on YouTube called “Hangin’ with Los Henrys.” The family also sponsored a 2016 Apollo in the Hamptons event at billionaire Ron Perelman’s home, a 2017 Republic Records Grammy afterparty and a 2017 Maxim Super Bowl party. Earlier this year, lawyers representing Henry won a legal case for the high-profile litigator when a Texas judge sealed records in his divorce case, according to nonprofit news site San Antonio Report. His lawyers cited Henry’s business interests as a reason to keep details of the dismissed divorce proceedings from going public. Henry’s legal team argued he and Azteca Henry weren’t married when she filed for divorce in November 2019, making the case moot. The Henrys were married in Nueces County in 1993 and divorced in 2005. Azteca Henry maintained the couple had a common-law marriage, continuing to live together after that time and describing themselves as husband and wife, according to the San Antonio Report.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 18, 2021

They differ on masks. Learn more about the Carroll ISD school board election candidates

Two candidates with children in the Carroll district are vying for a vacant school board seat in this fall’s special election. Early voting starts Oct. 18 and continues through Oct. 29. Election day is Nov. 2. Andrew Yeager and Stephanie Williams are running to fill the Place 7 seat after trustee David Alman resigned this summer. The district and a school board election last spring have been marked by division over a proposed diversity plan. Both candidates in this fall’s election have teaching backgrounds and said their experience is valuable for the school board. Yeager, a media sales director and adjunct professor at the University of North Texas, moved to Southlake eight years ago from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He volunteered for the Carroll High School band boosters and is a member of Southlake Sister Cities.

Yeager said he decided to run because it was time to use his leadership skills and to give back to the school district that helped his children thrive in programs such as engineering and computer animation. Yeager has two children who are graduates of the Carroll school system and one who is a senior in high school. “I always played a leadership role in my personal life and in my kids’ lives,” he said. Williams, a former teacher, said she is running because she has a passion for education. Williams is a fitness instructor and an independent facilitator for the Love and Logic Institute. She has two children who graduated from Carroll and two who are still in school. Williams said none of the current trustees have classroom experience. “I feel I could offer that perspective,” she said. He added that when he heard about the district’s Cultural Competence Action Plan, or CCAP, that ratcheted up his involvement. Williams said it is time for trustees to talk about students and their education. “We’ve talked about hyper-political issues,” she said. “We should find some common ground, find consensus, and move our community forward. Most of us moved to Southlake because of the schools, and we need to find a way to make them better.” Williams said it is important to create an environment where all students feel safe and welcome at school.

National Stories

Associated Press - October 18, 2021

Toyota to build $1.29B US battery plant employing 1,750

Toyota plans to build a new $1.29 billion factory in the U.S. to manufacture batteries for gas-electric hybrid and fully electric vehicles. The move comes amid a flurry of global announcements about shoring up production of batteries for electric vehicles. Most automakers are working to transition away from internal combustion engines to zero emission battery vehicles. The Toyota plant location wasn’t announced, but the company said it eventually will employ 1,750 people and start making batteries in 2025, gradually expanding through 2031. The plant is part of $3.4 billion that Toyota plans to spend in the U.S. on automotive batteries during the next decade. It didn’t detail where the remaining $2.1 billion would be spent, but part of that likely will go for another battery factory.

Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler, and LG Energy Solution said Monday that they plan to build a battery manufacturing facility to help the automaker get 40% of its U.S. sales from vehicles that run at least partly on electricity by 2030. They didn’t say where the plant would be. Also Monday, the Taiwanese company that makes smartphones for Apple and others, Foxconn Technology Group, said it would produce electric cars and buses for auto brands in China, North America, Europe and other markets. Volvo Cars on Monday unveiled more details of its initial public offering that will fund its ambitious plan to transform into an all-electric vehicle company by 2030. The Swedish auto brand, owned by Chinese carmaker Geely, said the IPO would value the company at 163-200 billion kronor ($18.8-$23 billion) when shares start trading Oct. 28. And Ford Motor Co. announced that it will turn a transmission factory in northwest England into a plant that will make electric power units for cars and trucks sold throughout Europe. Toyota joins Ford and General Motors in announcing recent large investments in U.S. battery factories. GM plans to build battery plants in Ohio and Tennessee, while Ford has plans for plants in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Dallas Morning News - October 18, 2021

SEC releases report on GameStop stock mania, raises questions about gamification of trading

A highly anticipated U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission report on January’s frenzied GameStop Corp. trading debunked some conspiracy theories that have swirled around social media for months, while adding momentum to Chair Gary Gensler’s push to toughen rules. The 44-page document — released Monday — details the SEC’s assessment of one of the most remarkable periods of the pandemic economy, when retail traders took on Wall Street and sent shares of GameStop and other meme stocks into the stratosphere. Agency officials didn’t offer specific policy recommendations, but they did say the episode warrants a close look at factors that prompt brokers to restrict customer trading, video-game-like features popularized by online trading platforms, short-selling and payment for order flow.

All are areas where Gensler has said the SEC might have to strengthen regulations as part of an aggressive agenda that’s likely to ensnare hedge funds, Robinhood Markets Inc., Citadel Securities and other firms. A key narrative of the GameStop incident is that an army of retail traders set off a massive short squeeze by driving up stocks that hedge funds were betting against. They did so by flooding the market with purchase orders, forcing the hedge funds to also have to buy shares to cover their shorts, pushing GameStop even higher. Yet the SEC said that story isn’t entirely backed up by the evidence. GameStop purchases by those covering shorts were “a small fraction of overall buy volume” and the company’s share price remained high even after the direct effects of such trades should have waned, according to the regulator. “The underlying motivation of such buy volume cannot be determined,” the SEC said. “Whether driven by a desire to squeeze short sellers and thus to profit from the resultant rise in price, or by belief in the fundamentals of GameStop, it was positive sentiment, not the buying-to-cover, that sustained the weeks-long price appreciation of GameStop stock.”

Associated Press - October 18, 2021

George W., Laura Bush offer tributes to Colin Powell after his death from COVD-19 complications

After news broke Monday that Colin Powell, the first Black chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, had died of complications from COVD-19 at age 84, tributes began flowing in for his long career of public service. Among those honoring the Vietnam War veteran and four-star general were former President George W. Bush, for whom Powell served as his first secretary of state.

Bush said Monday that he and former first lady Laura Bush were “deeply saddened” by Powell’s death. “He was a great public servant” and “widely respected at home and abroad,” Bush said. “And most important, Colin was a family man and a friend. Laura and I send [his widow] Alma and their children our sincere condolences as they remember the life of a great man.” At the White House, President Joe Biden said Powell “embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat.” Noting Powell’s rise from a childhood in a fraying New York City neighborhood, Biden said, “He believed in the promise of America because he lived it. And he devoted much of his life to making that promise a reality for so many others.” Flags were lowered at the White House and State Department. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, a retired Army general, said the news of Powell’s death left “a hole in my heart.” “The world lost one of the greatest leaders that we have ever witnessed,” Austin said while traveling in Europe. “Alma lost a great husband and the family lost a tremendous father and I lost a tremendous personal friend and mentor. He has been my mentor for a number of years. He always made time for me and I can always go to him with tough issues, he always had great counsel.” Condoleezza Rice, Powell’s successor at State and the department’s first black female secretary, praised him as “a trusted colleague and a dear friend through some very challenging times.”

Austin American-Statesman - October 17, 2021

Tim Revell: My sons’ lives depend on access to treatment. Congress, don't interfere.

(Tim Revell lives in Leander. He and his wife have spent many years raising money for CureDuchenne, which invests in research to find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.) As any parent well knows, time with your children is precious, yet there never seems to be enough of it. This is especially the case in my family. As a father of two children with special needs, I value every moment together, every experience we share, and every memory we form. That’s because, for my sons, time is more than just something that passes — for us, time is life. Both of my sons have Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), a condition that causes progressive muscle degeneration and weakness. Exceedingly rare, the genetic disorder affects only about 1 in every 3,500 male births nationwide. My 18-year-old son, Timothy, was diagnosed with the condition on his second birthday, and his 15-year-old brother, Andrew, was confirmed to have DMD when he was five.

“Go home and love your child because there’s nothing we can do.” That’s the typical response from doctors following a diagnosis of Duchenne muscular dystrophy. There is no cure for DMD, at least not yet. And when you consider that the life expectancy for a child with Duchenne is 20 to 25 years, you can begin to understand that days are like years for my family. There is no time to waste. My wife, Laura Revell, and I have decided to spend that time not resigned to our sons’ condition, but working tirelessly to overcome it. Still, it has been anything but easy. The boys receive a litany of medicines through a combination of private insurance and Medicaid. These medications include corticosteroids, ace inhibitors and other heart medications, as well as common drugs for osteoporosis and high blood pressure. In case that isn't complicated enough, the process for obtaining these medications is just as complex. After extensive research, we were fortunate to find the right specialist for our sons in Ohio. The fact that our endocrinologist is based outside Texas comes with some challenges in securing our sons’ medications. For Medicaid to grant access to some of the medicines our boys need — and which our Ohio-based endocrinologist prescribes — prior authorization must come through a Texas Medicaid-approved pediatrician.

Washington Post - October 19, 2021

‘Don’t feel sorry for me,’ Powell said as the end approached

As death approached, Colin L. Powell was still in fighting form. “I’ve got multiple myeloma cancer, and I’ve got Parkinson’s disease. But otherwise I’m fine,” he said in a July interview. And he rejected expressions of sorrow at his condition. “Don’t feel sorry for me, for God’s sakes! I’m [84] years old,” said Powell, who died Monday. “I haven’t lost a day of life fighting these two diseases. I’m in good shape.” Over 32 years beginning in 1989, after the U.S. invasion of Panama, I conducted about 50 interviews with Powell, who was the first Black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the first Black secretary of state. The last interview was a phone call, three months ago on July 12, for 42 minutes and recorded with Powell’s agreement.

Of his visits to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, he said, “I have to get all kinds of exams and I’m a former chairman, so they don’t want to lose me, so they make me come there all the time. I’ve taken lots of exams and I get there on my own. I drive up in my Corvette, get out of the Corvette and go into the hospital. I also go to a clinic to get the blood tests taken. I don’t advertise it but most of my friends know it.” We quickly switched to defense issues and foreign policy. I asked him about President Biden’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops completely from Afghanistan. “I thought we had to get out of there eventually,” Powell said. “[We] can’t beat these guys. Well, let’s get it over with. Afghanistan, you’re never going to win. Afghans are going to win. “They have hundreds willing to fight and die for this country of theirs. That’s why I don’t have any problem with us getting out of there. We can’t go from 100,000 [U.S. troops] down to a few hundred and think that’ll prevail.” At one point during our phone call, Alma Powell, his wife, called to him. “Hang on a minute,” he told me. “I’m on the phone, Alma!” he said, shouting back to her, and then in a whisper he added, “She never liked me talking to you, but here we are.” In Powell’s memoir, “My American Journey,” he recounted how he and I had talked in 1989. He wrote in his book that my story in The Washington Post the next day “was not inaccurate, but neither was it helpful.” He added, “I continued dealing with Woodward, though Alma warned me to handle with care.” His thoughts on Afghanistan were among several ruminations on current foreign policy issues. “How does anybody think that North Korea would find a way to attack us without us destroying them the next morning,” he said, “How can anyone think equally of Iran. Iran and North Korea cannot be our enemies because they cannot stand the results of such a conflict. We’re going to be terrified of these people? No. Would they dare?”

NBC News - October 19, 2021

With public defenders as judges, Biden quietly makes history on the courts

While President Joe Biden's economic agenda is mired in Democratic infighting, the Senate is quietly making history with his judicial nominees. The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 52-41 Monday to confirm Gustavo Gelpi to be a judge on the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Boston, making him the fifth new circuit judge with a background as a public defender on Biden's watch. Set against recent history, that is a remarkable statistic. President Barack Obama confirmed five former public defenders to the appeals courts over his entire eight years, according to the progressive judicial group Demand Justice. Biden has matched that in his first nine months. Overall, Gelpi is Biden's eighth new judge with experience as a public defender. That is as many as presidents Donald Trump, Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton landed in their first years combined, said Chris Kang, the chief counsel of Demand Justice.

"It really is amazing how far Biden has shifted the paradigm," Kang said. "This is going to be an important part of his legacy." With the latest confirmation, Biden is outpacing every other president since Richard Nixon in confirming circuit judges, who have the last word in most federal cases — although the pace will be difficult to maintain. One of his new appellate judges is Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, a former public defender who is widely seen by people close to Biden as a future Supreme Court contender. Progressives have lamented the long-standing tendency of presidents in both parties to prioritize corporate lawyers and prosecutors for federal judgeships, arguing that the lack of diversity in experience on the courts has created blind spots in the justice system. Kang, who worked on judicial selection in the Obama White House, recalled having to grapple with criticism Obama got for a lack of professional diversity among his nominees.

October 18, 2021

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - October 18, 2021

Seemingly an odd couple, Tesla and Texas becoming tightly entwined

It seems like an unlikely marriage: Tesla, the world's biggest electric automaker, moving its headquarters to Texas — where the oil and gas industry is etched in the state’s DNA and where, unless something changes, Tesla isn’t even allowed to sell its vehicles directly to customers. On the other hand, Elon Musk — the high-profile leader of Tesla, SpaceX and a number of other companies — has steered many of his operations to the Lone Star State over the past few years, making Tesla’s headquarters merely the latest such move. Musk has overseen development of a launch facility for SpaceX rockets on the Gulf Coast near Brownsville, picked Travis County as the site for Tesla's next billion-dollar assembly plant and even became a Texan himself in late 2020 by relocating his personal residence to the state.

His actions, capped by the Oct. 7 announcement that Tesla is moving its headquarters to Austin, have prompted plenty of crowing among Texas politicians and economic development officials eager for examples of the state’s vaunted business climate prevailing over that of California — which had been Musk’s longtime base of operations — and other regions of the country. “Texas is the land of opportunity and innovation,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in a written statement heralding Tesla’s headquarters announcement. There's little doubt that Musk, who is considered one of the two richest people in the world with an estimated net worth over $200 billion, stands to benefit substantially from his move to Texas. The state doesn't have an income tax — compared with California's personal income tax rate of 13.3% for the highest earners. Musk also engaged in a public spat with California officials in May 2020 — and first raised the prospect of pulling up stakes — over local coronavirus-related restrictions that shut down Tesla's factory there for a short time. He's likely to find officials who are more sympathetic to his coronavirus views in Texas, where Abbott has opposed various pandemic-related mandates and recently issued an order aimed at preventing private businesses from requiring that employees be vaccinated.

San Antonio Express-News - October 17, 2021

Tony Bennett: Texas employers need flexibility to maintain workplace safety

(Tony Bennett is the president and CEO of the Texas Association of Manufacturers.) The Texas economy is strong because policymakers trust employers to run their businesses in ways that grow jobs and maintain a productive workforce. A healthy workforce results in a more productive workforce, and the ongoing pandemic reminds us how quickly illness can impact the global economy — resulting in slowed manufacturing, the inability to get goods to consumers, job losses and lost tax revenue. As we continue to navigate the pandemic, Texas policymakers must allow Texas employers to decide their own best practices to maintain workplace health and safety. To do otherwise would establish a concerning precedent of state interference into determining what workforce health and safety policies are best, without regard for a particular industry’s needs or the differences in manufacturing work environments. Specifically, Texas employers should have the ability to decide whether vaccines or other safety measures make sense for their workforce — and they don’t need federal or state mandates to make that decision.

There are employers for whom vaccines make sense for their workforce and barriers to vaccine access for those employees should be eliminated. For employers who decide that other safety measures are appropriate for their workplace, these options should be available. Any one-size-fits-all approach to workplace safety has the potential to harm the economy. This week, our Association registered in opposition to House Bill 155 and Senate Bill 51, which address vaccine exemptions. In part, these bills would allow employees to claim an exemption from an employer’s vaccine requirement based on undefined “reasons of conscience.” The bills can create uncertainty for employers and an inability to effectively participate in any complaint process. Policies that compromise employers’ ability to effectively run their businesses come at a steep cost. Just as there would be a tremendous cost of complying with government mandates to vaccinate an entire workforce, there is a hefty economic cost associated with prohibiting adequate workplace health and safety measures for employers for whom COVID-19 safety protocols make sense.

New York Times - October 18, 2021

Threats, resignations and 100 new laws: Why public health is in crisis

State and local public health departments across the country have endured not only the public’s fury, but widespread staff defections, burnout, firings, unpredictable funding and a significant erosion in their authority to impose the health orders that were critical to America’s early response to the pandemic. While the coronavirus has killed more than 700,000 in the United States in nearly two years, a more invisible casualty has been the nation’s public health system. Already underfunded and neglected even before the pandemic, public health has been further undermined in ways that could resound for decades to come. A New York Times review of hundreds of health departments in all 50 states indicates that local public health across the country is less equipped to confront a pandemic now than it was at the beginning of 2020.

“We have learned all the wrong lessons from the pandemic,” said Adriane Casalotti, chief of public and government affairs for the National Association of County and City Health Officials, an organization representing the nearly 3,000 local health departments across the nation. “We are attacking and removing authority from the people who are trying to protect us.” The Times interviewed more than 140 local health officials, public health experts and lawmakers, reviewed new state laws, analyzed local government documents and sent a survey to every county health department in the country. Almost 300 departments responded, discussing their concerns over long-term funding, staffing, authority and community support. The examination showed that: Public health agencies have seen a staggering exodus of personnel, many exhausted and demoralized, in part because of abuse and threats. Dozens of departments reported that they had not staffed up at all, but actually lost employees. About 130 said they did not have enough people to do contact tracing, one of the most important tools for limiting the spread of a virus. The Times identified more than 500 top health officials who left their jobs in the past 19 months. Legislators have approved more than 100 new laws — with hundreds more under consideration — that limit state and local health powers. That overhaul of public health gives governors, lawmakers and county commissioners more power to undo health decisions and undermines everything from flu vaccination campaigns to quarantine protocols for measles.

CNN - October 18, 2021

Rising prices and empty store shelves spell danger for Biden and Democrats

Joe Biden's struggle to make America normal again after the pandemic is proving to be far more protracted and complicated than first thought, which has enormous political implications for the President and his party. An admission by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on CNN Sunday that supply chain backups, which are having a corrosive impact on the wider economy, will linger into next year further underscored a tough midterm election environment for Democrats. There is only limited action Biden can take to get containers stacked up at ports out into the country, meaning the situation is causing a real headache for the White House. When Americans head into stores and see bacon has doubled in price, or when they cannot buy the gifts they want heading into the holiday season, Biden and Democrats are likely to get the blame in next month's elections and in 2022.

The cost of living -- along with gasoline that is now averaging $3.32 a gallon nationwide, according to the American Automobile Association -- provides an opening for Republicans to argue that the Biden presidency is a failure. Rising discontent also fits neatly into the narrative of decay and national humiliation that Donald Trump is painting as he prepares the ground for a likely presidential campaign for 2024. On Sunday, for instance, the ex-President sent out a fundraising email that noted "prices soaring." First-term presidents almost always suffer congressional election rebukes, as their actions often energize the opposing party's supporters against them and any struggles they have can cause their own voters to disengage. This time, with Democrats only possessing the narrowest of majorities in the House and the Senate, they badly need the economy to be racing ahead and the curse of the pandemic to be well behind the country in a year's time. But a catalog of problems, including a strapped labor market, rising energy prices, climbing inflation, political polarization over vaccines and an immigration crisis at the southern border, are creating a disgruntled national pre-election year mood. Covid-19 deaths and hospitalizations are forecast to keep declining over the next several weeks, but the Delta variant and Biden's own premature declaration of partial victory over the pandemic on July Fourth have also meant that any assumptions about being back to normal by late this year have already been shattered.

State Stories

KUT - October 18, 2021

Social workers warn Texas' abortion ban is causing psychological harm to sexual assault survivors

Shortly before Texas' new abortion law went into effect, the SAFE Alliance, a nonprofit that supports survivors of sexual abuse, was counseling a 12-year-old girl who had been repeatedly raped by her father. "[He] would not let her leave the house,” Piper Stege Nelson, the group's chief public strategies officer, said. “She got pregnant. She had no idea about anything about her body. She certainly didn’t know that she was pregnant. There was no way that she was going to get the help that she needed by six weeks," the cutoff to get an abortion under Senate Bill 8. Nelson said that six-week limit presents a serious barrier for most people, who don't even know they're pregnant by that point. The law also makes no exceptions for people who are survivors of rape or incest, who are often children. She said a child is the victim of sexual assault in the U.S. about every nine minutes. Nelson said she’s also worried about survivors of sex trafficking. Oftentimes women in these situations dissociate from their bodies when they are being repeatedly raped, she said.

“That dissociation means that she doesn’t fully understand what’s going on with her body,” she said. “That dissociation can lead to a detachment from reality and the fact that she’s pregnant. And so, there again, she is not going to know that she is pregnant by six weeks, and she’s not going to be able to resolve that pregnancy.” Experts say Senate Bill 8 has also been affecting the healing process for survivors of sexual assault. As a social worker in Austin for the past two decades, Monica Faulker says she’s worked with a lot of sexual assault survivors. She said there are serious psychological consequences to limiting the choices of a person who has finally come forward after being sexually assaulted — many times after years of abuse. “The impact of finally coming forward and then being told there are no options for you is devastating,” she said. Faulkner said there are messages mental health professionals try to get across to people they're counseling. One is communicating to survivors that what happened to them is not their fault. “Then you try to talk to them over time and try to give choices in what happens to their case and what happens to their future,” she said. “And [SB 8] is clearly is taking away any choice that they have.” Nelson said giving people choices about where their life goes after an assault is about giving them their power back.

Dallas Morning News - October 17, 2021

Dog tethering bill approved by Texas House as third special session of 2021 winds down

As the Legislature steams toward adjournment this week of their third special session of 2021, the Texas House early Sunday passed a bill that would clarify existing state law regarding the safety of dogs chained outside and make the statute easier to enforce. The bill’s advancement comes after Gov. Greg Abbott drew the ire of angry Texans in June, when he vetoed similar legislation which passed during the regular legislative session with broad bipartisan support. That measure, hailed by animal rights advocates, would have banned the use of heavy chains to tether dogs and made the unlawful restraint of a dog a criminal offense. The new proposal, which passed in a 106-22 vote, is similar to its regular session predecessor. The changes make the bill nonspecific about the materials used in the collar and add “reasonably” to the description of how long to leave a dog unattended in the back of a truck.

If the Senate agrees with the final version as passed by the House, it will head to Abbott’s desk, where he can sign it into law. Abbott, who proudly owns golden retrievers Pancake and Peaches, said the bill he vetoed in June would have required too much of dog owners. “Texans love their dogs, so it is no surprise that our statutes already protect them by outlawing true animal cruelty,” Abbott said in a statement at the time. “Texas is no place for this kind of micro-managing and over-criminalization.” The hashtag #AbbottHatesDogs trended on Twitter shortly after his veto. In September, Abbott added the issue to his call for the third special session, asking lawmakers for a version “that addresses the concerns expressed in the governor’s veto statement.” The bill was a priority during the regular session for the Texas Humane Legislation Network, an animal welfare advocacy organization, and it was backed by law enforcement officials and animal control officers around the state.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - October 15, 2021

What caused Southwest Airlines’ operational meltdown? Some want Congress to investigate.

To visit her family in Abilene over the holidays, Marilyn Baker typically relies on Southwest Airlines’ flight from Baltimore to Dallas Love Field. After getting stranded in Jacksonville last weekend cost her more than $1,000 in unexpected lodging, transport and pet care costs, she’s not sure if Southwest is still her best bet. Baker’s Sunday flight from Jacksonville to Baltimore was one of more than 2,000 trips that got canceled over the weekend. A week after the operations fiasco, customers and the public still have no idea what went wrong. On Saturday, the company blamed the meltdown on air traffic control issues and weather. Meanwhile, the company and pilots’ union denied pervasive rumors of employees striking to protest the company’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, which had been announced days before.

“I’ve since watched the CEO on TV and felt he wasn’t genuine,” Baker told the Star-Telegram on Thursday. “He just wasn’t being forthright. Just be honest about what the issue is. It clearly wasn’t air traffic control and it clearly wasn’t weather, so don’t say it was. If everyone walked off the job, say, ‘Everyone walked off the job.’” Airline passenger advocate Bill McGee of Consumer Reports believes Southwest owes the public an explanation and — because the airline received billions in taxpayer bailout cash — a rebate. The airline’s meltdown last weekend was the symptom of a larger problem, he said, and one that requires federal intervention. After months of operational tumult and little transparency from Southwest, experts like McGee are calling for Congress to step in. When airlines received more than $50 billion in coronavirus bailout cash, consumer advocates begged the Trump administration and Congress to require consumer protections as a condition for the cash, McGee said. “The only thing [airlines] were asked for all this money, billions and billions of dollars, they were asked to make sure that they had enough staffing, that they didn’t lay people off and didn’t encourage early retirements,” he said.

San Antonio Report - October 17, 2021

A San Antonio nonprofit known for serving vets has become a big player in the migrant detention industry

By late July, the 17-year-old Honduran teen and his 15-year-old sister had been held at the West Texas detention center for nearly two months. Traveling north from a country hit hard by famine and organized crime, the siblings had crossed the Rio Grande into Texas near Eagle Pass on May 28. Once on the U.S. side, they were picked up by Border Patrol agents who took them to one of the agency’s ice-cold holding cells migrants call hieleras. By June 1, the two teens had been moved to Pecos Emergency Intake Shelter, a detention center operated by San Antonio-based nonprofit Endeavors. The two were supposed to be released to family members within weeks, but as new faces came and went, their cases remained stuck in the process. “I need to leave this place so that I can be with my sister and talk to her more,” the youth, whose name has been redacted, told an immigration advocate in a July 27 interview. “We both want to leave here as soon as possible. She is very sad that we are still here. All of her friends have left here already and she is the only one of her friends still here. My mom is also worried about us.”

Testimony from the teenager and others included in recent legal filings discuss the conditions at Pecos, a converted former housing site for energy workers in the West Texas oil patch. According to a July 12 report from immigration advocates citing federal data, more than 1,805 children were housed there at the time, 10 of them for three times longer than legally allowed. As illegal border crossings skyrocketed in 2021, with federal statistics showing a four-year high of 1.5 million apprehensions so far this year, federal agencies such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) dealt with the influx by opening temporary detention sites. At most of these sites, federal contractors such as Endeavors perform the day-to-day operations of the facilities as part of multimillion dollar contracts. Over less than two years, Endeavors has morphed into a major player in the immigration detention industry, but questions have been raised about whether company officials’ close ties to the Biden administration helped the nonprofit secure contracts — two that bypassed the competitive bidding process — worth in excess of $500 million. Once focused primarily on helping veterans and the homeless, Endeavors’ migrant service arm now operates detention sites for migrant youths in Pecos on behalf of ORR, a division of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). According to the nonprofit, HHS officials “asked Endeavors in March to stand up an emergency intake site in Pecos” under a no-bid contract worth up to $575 million at full payout.

San Antonio Report - October 15, 2021

‘Defeated and hopeless’: Lingering pandemic worsens local, statewide nursing shortage

Health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic since early last year are running on empty, worn out by the long hours and serial outbreaks of the coronavirus despite the availability of a vaccine. The famously public outpouring of gratitude and admiration for the nation’s “health care heroes” during 2020 has waned. Facing a growing number of hostile and abusive patients and their family members, nurses are burnt out and exhausted and leaving a profession already experiencing widespread shortages before the pandemic.

At an event Wednesday to highlight the problem and recognize nurses during National Emergency Room Nurses Week, a cadre of the city’s top hospital executives including George Hernández, president and CEO of University Health, told U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) they need help. “When we think about the pandemic, it caused some of the strongest among us — nurses are notoriously strong — to really feel defeated and hopeless,” said Jane McCurley, chief nursing executive at Methodist Healthcare. “It’s disrespectful. It’s very discouraging to our health care providers when a year ago … we were hailed as heroes.” The situation is concerning in a state where the nursing shortage was already severe before the pandemic and the need to recruit new nurses is a constant challenge. In Texas, about 20,000 more nurses are needed, and within 10 years, that number will increase to 58,000, said Dr. Nelson Tuazon, vice president and associate chief nursing officer at University Health who represented the Texas Nurses Association during a roundtable discussion with Cornyn. In the San Antonio metropolitan area, the number of job postings for registered and licensed vocational nurses reached 3,040 in the last 90 days, according to data provided by Workforce Solutions Alamo.

Spectrum News - October 16, 2021

Parents, lawmakers condemn controversial Carroll ISD Holocaust comment

A North Texas school official is under fire for telling teachers if they want their students to read a book on the Holocaust, they must also present one with the “opposing view.” The comment was made during a training session at Carroll Independent School District in Southlake, Texas, when an administrator was explaining how teachers should implement a new Texas law, the so-called "anti-critical race theory" legislation, that aims to restrict how teachers can discuss race and racism in the classroom. When Republicans were pushing the bill during the regular legislative session earlier this year, critics said it was an attempt to whitewash history. Now they say this incident shows that fear has come to fruition.

One parent whose 10th grade daughter goes to high school at Carroll ISD, said last week her daughter sent her photos of her classroom, where teachers had covered up their bookshelves. Then, a recording first obtained by NBC News began circulating. In it, Gina Peddy of the Carroll Independent School District can be heard saying, “Just try to remember the concepts of [Texas House Bill] 3979. And make sure that… if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has opposing, that has other perspectives.” Teachers in the room audibly react, saying, “How do you oppose the Holocaust? What?” The backlash was swift. “There are not opposing views to the Holocaust because we call that Holocaust denial, and Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism. We won't tolerate anti-Semitism being taught in our schools," said Cheryl Drazin, vice president of the central division of the Anti-Defamation League. ?

Associated Press - October 17, 2021

Texas ban on vaccine mandates may help governor dodge far-right challengers

Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s latest volley in the culture wars appears designed to stave off ultra-conservative challengers in the upcoming primary, even as it puts him at odds with some of the state’s business leaders. Abbott’s executive decree forbidding employers from requiring COVID-19 vaccines adds to a push by the Texas Republican Party to devote much of its agenda to culture-war issues such as abortion, transgender school children in sports, gun rights, teaching tied to so-called critical race theory and voting restrictions. The policies are manna for the state’s most conservative voters but often conflict with the fast growing liberal-leaning cities that drive Texas’ $1.9 trillion economy. Abbott, speaking to reporters Tuesday evening, said he decided on the ban after President Joe Biden “bungled” his handling of the vaccine response.

The move is an abrupt turnaround from policies the governor laid out as recently as August, when a spokesperson said that employers were free to require worker vaccines since “private businesses don’t need government running their businesses.” In a state that hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1990, analysts say Abbott’s change of heart may have been motivated by a party primary taking place in March, in which he’ll take on two challengers who consistently attack him from the right, former state Senator Don Huffines and Allen West, an ex-Florida congressman. Huffines, who’s been prodding Abbott for months to ban vaccine mandates, said the governor — running for his third term in office — waited too long to act. “If I were governor we would have already banned vaccine mandates,” he said in an email. “Any businesses who attempted to defy the law would be prosecuted accordingly.” Abbott’s been fighting a rearguard action against the arch-conservative wing of his own party since the early days of the pandemic. They criticized him for employing what they saw as big-government and anti-business restrictions to slow the spread. As early as July 2020, more than half a dozen Texas county GOP chapters had formally censured the governor for measures including a mask mandate. Last week, the Texas GOP published an open letter urging Abbott to ban vaccine mandates.

The 19th - October 17, 2021

WNBA union denounces Texas abortion ban in New York Times ad

“Reproductive rights are human rights. Family planning is freedom.” This statement is at the heart of a full-page print ad that the WNBA players’ union is running in the New York Times on Sunday against Texas’ six-week abortion ban and in support of reproductive rights, in what the player’s association executive director Terri Jackson described to The 19th as a first for the league. “You’ve seen the players stand up in a myriad of ways,” she said. But taking a stance in the Times, with players adding their signatures to the declaration, is new ground: “We haven’t done this before.” The ad had its debut the same day as Game 4 of the 2021 WNBA Finals and comes after Texas’ abortion ban went back into place following a temporary emergency stay by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

It also follows a greater legacy of the league paving the way within professional sports to support social justice movements and speak out against racism, much of which has been spearheaded by Layshia Clarendon, the WNBA’s first openly nonbinary and transgender player (and first vice president of the WNBPA executive committee). “We’re putting a stake in the ground,” Clarendon said. “This directly affects a lot of people in our league as a women’s league and a league of people with uteruses.” He said the team wants to serve as an example for athlete advocacy, and to signal to women and people with uteruses “that they’re not alone, that people are fighting for them.” Players within the WNBA told The Times last year that they see that legacy of foreshadowing current activism “as the natural outgrowth of who they are, a drive born of necessity in a league dominated by Black women, many of them lesbians.” Amira Rose Davis, professor of history and African American studies at Pennsylvania State, described the league’s cohesion and early adoption of social justice protests as “the blueprint for some of the collective action that we’re seeing now” in an episode of NPR’s Code Switch last month. “We’ve gotten positioned as a social justice league full of Black women who are leading the way,” Clarendon told The 19th.

Austin American-Statesman - October 17, 2021

Tim Doty: The EPA needs to save Texas from itself

(Doty worked at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for nearly three decades.) A mounting body of research is making it painfully clear that the state of Texas is both unwilling and unable to manage the massive quantity of emissions being released from flares, storage tanks, and other equipment at oil and gas wells and production sites across the state. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must step in and do what Texas’ regulators cannot or will not do. I worked for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for 28-and-a-half years, including 17 years managing its air mobile monitoring assets, and another 3 years as its Optical Gas Imaging (OGI) Program Manager/Instructor and as an Office of Compliance and Enforcement technical advisor. I did this because I believed in the agency's mission to protect Texans’ public health and natural resources. But I retired after it became increasingly clear that the agency’s leadership had little to no interest in proactively monitoring, documenting and minimizing air emissions in Texas.

Texas citizens deserve better than the reactive strategy that has been a proven failure for the last decade. Flaring is a catch-all term for burning excess hydrocarbon gas, composed primarily of methane, at oil and gas sites. Sometimes flaring is necessary for safety reasons -– like when there is an equipment failure, but most often, companies use it to dispose of gas they consider waste. Excess flaring wastes our natural resources, shorts landowners and taxpayers the royalties they would be paid if the gas were sold on either public or private lands, and creates toxic and climate-changing air pollution that threatens local communities and our planet. Flaring in Texas’ oil and gas fields is basically uncontrolled, and there are very few rules that limit how much gas companies can flare. The few existing rules are not enforced. The Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC), the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry, does a poor job of tracking who is flaring, and the volume of gas flared.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 15, 2021

Sue Wise Dyke: Pandemic has worsened domestic violence -- Learn how you can help in your community

(Sue Wise Dyke was the executive director of the Corpus Christi Women's Shelter (now The Purple Door) from its founding in 1978 to 1986. She lives in Kerrville.) Domestic violence has always existed and is very difficult to conquer, causing extreme suffering and even death. In Texas in 2019, 219,895 women were abused, and this statistic does not include all those women, men and children who do not seek help from shelters or law enforcement. Violence affects not only the abused, but it also impacts those who witness it or fear they will be victims as well. Fortunately, in the late 1970s the United States government started to address the problem of domestic abuse. Women's shelters were established which provided immediate refuge or a safe place where the abused could escape. I was among the first in Texas to head up the shelter in Corpus Christi. It was gratifying to see that women were at last receiving some help. Professionals in the field have developed programs for victims including counseling, legal assistance, help with future planning, immediate health, housing, and financial advice.

But let us be clear. A shelter is a refuge, and while a refuge can save many lives, the violence at home remains and is widespread. Abuse and how best to prevent it are complicated issues. Abusers come from all races and religious backgrounds. They have different social and economic backgrounds, can be highly educated or have no education. Many point out that battering is a learned behavior and children who have witnessed an abusive parent may themselves become abusers. Abuse often occurs behind closed doors, so neighbors, friends, and co-workers who might otherwise step in to stop abuse are unaware anything is wrong until they encounter the abused victim after the attack. Considering that battering has such a long history, is widespread and not easily treated, it is essential that our shelters and the services they provide remain a central part of how a caring society addresses this issue. Shelters save lives. It is as simple as that. I have seen it in my professional work and heard it from many victims. If a woman who has been abused has the courage to seek help in a shelter and use her voice to defend her rights to a safe place, then we as citizens must use our voices and power to see that programs to treat and prevent domestic violence are fully supported. Over the last year our local women’s shelter remained full all year. Research suggests that the pandemic has played a role in an increase in domestic violence because of the closed environments and stress so many families faced over a long period of time.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - October 15, 2021

Drs. John Nielsen-Gammon and Holly Heard: Extreme weather trends are on the rise and pose a risk for Texas Gulf Coast

(Dr. John Nielsen-Gammon is a Regents Professor at Texas A&M and has been Texas State Climatologist since 2000. Dr. Holly Heard, who previously worked at the Houston Education Research Consortium at Rice University, is Director of Data and Analytics for Texas 2036.) Extreme weather is nothing new to Texans, but data suggests it will become more frequent as we approach our bicentennial in 2036 – and the consequences could be severe. While actual weather from year to year is largely unpredictable, a review of long-term data over Texas’ past hundred years reveals significant trends that point to an increased risk of destructive natural disasters. This year will be best remembered for the extreme winter weather in February, and a relatively mild summer is still fresh in our minds. However, data clearly shows that Texas is getting hotter. This summer would have been regarded as a steamy one if it had happened in the 1970s or 1980s. And this year notwithstanding, trend data shows that the number of 100-degree days has more than doubled over the past 40 years and could nearly double again by 2036.

Similarly, while we’ve had a relatively wet year, hotter temperatures point to increased threat and severity of drought. Hot days increase the rate of evaporation from the soil and from water bodies, which means droughts take a harder toll when they strike. So, if — or when — Texas experiences another dry period like those in the early or middle 20th century, the higher temperatures will lead to even more severe effects. While all of Texas is susceptible to the effects of extreme weather, Houston and the Gulf Coast are at particular risk. The Texas coastline is retreating along nearly the entire length of its barrier islands. In Galveston Bay and probably other bays and estuaries behind the barrier islands, new sediment is not being deposited quickly enough to keep up with relative sea level rise, leading to loss of coastal wetlands. As the Gulf of Mexico encroaches, the likelihood of catastrophic storm surge from hurricanes increases. Rising sea levels lead directly to increased risk of storm surge. The places along the coast with the largest rates of relative sea level rise may have a doubled storm surge risk by 2050, even before the effect of stronger hurricanes is factored in.

Click2Houston - October 17, 2021

Capitol Attackers lowest common denominator, Cornyn says

U.S. Senator John Cornyn, (R), Texas says the FBI showed significant lapses when investigating claims of sexual abuse by women and girls taking part in USA gymnastics. “They’re set up to deal with all manner of crime in counter-intelligence matters but when it comes to things like sexual assault they simply are in the dark ages,” he said on this week’s Houston Newsmakers with Khambrel Marshall.

“What happened on January 6th, and I was there in the Senate chamber, was wrong,” he said. “It demonstrates what happens when you get a group of people together, a large mob, and really it’s the lowest common denominator characterizes the whole effort.” Senator Cornyn said former President Trump had the right to say what he said prior to that riot about the election being stolen. Senator Cornyn is not part of the growing group of Republicans falling in line with the former President’s claims that the 2020 election was stolen. “I believe Joe Biden won the election,” he said. “President Trump had about 60 different lawsuits that were unsuccessful in changing the outcome and the Constitution says the new President should be sworn in on January 20th and Joe Biden was.”

Associated Press - October 17, 2021

Fauci dismayed by Texas’ move to ban vaccine mandates

Dr. Anthony Fauci is saying Sunday that it is “really unfortunate” that Gov. Greg Abbott has moved to ban vaccine mandates in the state of Texas. The nation’s leading infectious disease doctor, speaking on Fox News Sunday, said that the Republican governor’s decision to block businesses from requiring inoculations would damage public health since vaccines are the “most effective means” to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Fauci was largely encouraged by the downward trend of coronavirus hospitalizations and deaths across the nation and suggested that vaccinated individuals could have a normal holiday season with others who have received the shot. But he said that those who have not been vaccinated should continue to avoid gatherings and should wear a mask. He also suggested that those who received a shot of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine would likely have flexibility to get a booster from either Moderna or Pfizer. The FDA advisory panel ruled last week that anyone 18 and up who had the J&J shot was eligible to get a booster.

San Antonio Express-News - October 18, 2021

For $110.5 million, you can own 5,000 acres and the largest private lake in Texas

Here’s your chance to own your own private lake, which so happens to be the largest privately owned body of water in Texas. The huge tract of rural land 90 miles south of Dallas is available for a cool $110.550 million. For a buyer in search of true isolation, there’s nothing like it. The property is more than 5,000 acres and is near the town of Fairfield in Freestone County. The purchase includes the 2,400-acre Fairfield Lake with 21 miles of undeveloped shoreline.

“They say everything is bigger in Texas and that is definitely the case with this exceptional Fairfield Lake property,” said Blake Hortenstine, a broker and partner with the Hortenstine Ranch Company. “A water asset of this magnitude is virtually impossible to find anywhere in the lower 48 states, and combined with land development possibilities and amenities, is the only offering of its kind.” Fairfield Lake is estimated to be 50-feet at its deepest point, with exceptional fishing, water skiing, boating activities and swimming, according to the listing. The property also has a hardwood forest with an array of wildlife, including whitetail deer, river otters, beavers, foxes and bald eagles. There’s also access to 8 miles of hardtop roads and bridges. According to the Dallas Morning News, a part of the land for sale had been leased to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The newspaper reported that the lake was built in the 1960s by utility companies that previously used the water to cool a power-generating plant that closed in 2018. Vistra Energy/Luminant is selling the property, according to the newspaper.

Dallas Morning News - October 13, 2021

Mark Cuban stiffens COVID-19 stance: ‘If you work for me, I require my employees to be vaccinated’

With the Dallas Mavericks’ season opener approaching, owner Mark Cuban has made his stance known on COVID-19 vaccinations. And it doesn’t appear that he will be backing down any time soon. “It is your choice. It is absolutely, positively up to you. But there are consequences that come with that,” Cuban said during an appearance on 10 Questions with Kyle Brandt, a Spotify podcast. “If you work for me, I require my employees to be vaccinated unless there’s a doctor’s reason where they can’t be. I don’t want my kids to be at risk, so the consequences of you not being vaccinated is I’m not going to shut the [expletive] up. I’m going to be in your mother[expletive] ear driving you mother[expletive] crazy.” Cuban’s statement on vaccinations comes the same week that Gov. Greg Abbott declared that Texas businesses cannot order their workers or customers to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

In late September, the Mavericks announced their updated health and safety protocol, which requires fans to either show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within 48 hours to attend games at American Airlines Center. It also states that fans, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear masks when not actively eating or drinking in assigned seats to comply with the Dallas County mask order. Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said during training camp that his entire coaching staff is vaccinated and estimated players are in the “90th-percentile” of being vaccinated. Of the 20 Mavericks on the training camp roster, only guard Trey Burke has said publicly that he is unvaccinated. The NBA does not have a vaccination mandate for its players. “I feel like everybody has their own personal choice, and for me, I’m just getting the proper knowledge and continuing to do more and more research to make a reasonable decision,” Burke said. Burke doubled down on his comments when speaking with Fox 4?s Mike Doocy. “I respect the ‘freedom of choice’ in which everybody has that birthright,” Burke told Doocy. “Therefore this is a personal choice and preference that my family and I have always abided by. I believe more in holistic and naturalistic ‘medicine’ rather than the ‘drug’ industry or what we know today as ‘pharmaceuticals.’ “I don’t have any issue with the choices my teammates have made and they feel the same in return and have been in support with decision.

Bloomberg - October 18, 2021

Southwest Airlines seeks to block pilots’ bid to halt mandated COVID-19 vaccinations

Southwest Airlines Co. asked a federal court to reject a request from its pilots to temporarily block the carrier from carrying out federally mandated coronavirus vaccinations, saying such an order would put the company’s business, employees and customers at risk. The Southwest Airlines Pilots Association is seeking to stop the airline from moving ahead with the Nov. 24 deadline for the shots until an existing a lawsuit it filed over alleged U.S. labor law violations is resolved. The union claims Southwest illegally changed work rules during the pandemic instead of negotiating them with pilots. The Dallas-based carrier set the vaccination deadline to comply with an executive order from President Joe Biden that mandates all employees of federal contractors to be fully vaccinated against Covld-19 by Dec. 8. Southwest, like most major U.S. carriers, holds contracts to carry federal employees and goods, and the U.S. government is its largest single customer, the airline said in a legal filing Saturday.

“The injunction that SWAPA seeks is extraordinary,” Southwest said. If granted, it would prevent the airline from meeting Biden’s order and force the roll back of policies adopted to implement U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines to help stop the spread of coronavirus in the workplace. The possible cancellation of Southwest’s government contracts would cause “substantial harm” to the company and all of its employees, including the pilots represented by group, the airline said. The union’s original lawsuit, filed in federal court in Dallas on Aug. 30, claimed Southwest has continued to make unilateral changes that violate terms of the Railway Labor Act, or RLA, which governs airline-union relations. In addition to the vaccination requirement, the union wants to block Covid quarantine rules for pilots and an infectious disease control policy that, it says, significantly altered work conditions, rules and rates of pay, until the two sides agree on a resolution. The changes violate a “status quo” provision of the RLA by not maintaining terms of an existing contract during negotiations, the union lawsuit claimed. The federal court doesn’t have jurisdiction in the case because it involves a “minor dispute” under the RLA that can be resolved through binding arbitration instead of a negotiation process for larger disagreements that can take years to resolve, the carrier said. The union also can’t show irreparable harm because it is in talks with the airline to establish a process for pilots to request religious or medical exemptions from the mandate.

City Stories

Port Arthur News - October 16, 2021

Local non-profit works behind the scenes to help SE Texas students thrive

Reecie L. Goodman, director of Communities in Schools of Southeast Texas, first described the organization as a drop-out prevention program. But those that utilize it say it’s far more than that. “Communities in Schools is the hidden jewel,” said Adrienne Lott, communications specialist for Port Arthur ISD. “If you have them on campus, you definitely want to keep them there. They are a catch-all. Anything the campus needs, they provide it.” Currently the non-profit serves 54 schools in Southeast Texas, 14 of which are in Port Arthur and three in Nederland. Other districts include 21 Beaumont schools, five Jasper schools, three West Orange-Cove schools, four Bob Hope schools, one West Hardin school and 3 Vidor schools.

“We don’t just focus on drop-out,” Goodman said. “There are so many at-risk criteria that our students face everyday. So when we’re talking about keeping kids in school so they stay in school, that means focusing on their attendance — making sure they’re there every day in classrooms ready to learn.” And sometimes that means digging a little deeper into the reason for truancy. In once instance, Goodman said, CIS discovered two brothers had been attending school on separate days — one going one day, the other going the next, and so forth. “They never came together,” Goodman said. “And there was a simple fix — they were sharing one parent’s shoes. That’s a kid that’s missing school because he or she can’t meet the uniform standard.” And that is one of the many other services they provide. “They help with school supplies, uniforms, backpacks coats, shoes,” said Lott. “When I was at Travis Elementary, they had a Backpack Buddies program where they’d send home backpacks with healthy meals that didn’t have to be refrigerated to help feed the students through the weekend.” Another focus of the organization is mental health, Goodman said, adding that it’s become increasingly more necessary since Hurricane Harvey. Elementary school kids, she said, are writing suicide notes.

KSAT - October 17, 2021

Workforce Alamo Solutions CEO says San Antonio’s unemployment rate near pre-pandemic level

A total of 4.3 million people in the U.S. quit their jobs in August this year, according to the Labor Department. It’s being called, “the great resignation.” The latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor’s statistics show the unemployment rate nationwide is 4.8%. Adrian Lopez, CEO of Workforce Solutions Alamo, joined Leading SA on Sunday to talk about employment trends being seen in and around San Antonio. “Posting a 4.8% unemployment rate, which is pretty close to 3.5% pre-pandemic levels. We’re actually seeing an increase in our labor force as opposed to people dropping off,” Lopez said. There are job openings in most local job industries, especially leisure and hospitality. “The full recovery of those is actually not anticipated to about 2024, 2025, but they still have tons of positions that are actually still vacant even today,” Lopez said. And if anyone is looking for a job, there are plenty of openings.

“Today we have about 47,000 openings based on the databases that we actually see, depending on what particular industries. I mean, you know, one from the perspective of hospitality, you know, that could affect our ability to serve the different types of conventions and stuff that we see coming to the city. That’s on a one and a manufacturing side. If we are not producing products that are actually going to be something that’s on the shelves of our goods and those that could affect obviously the supply line associated with products that we tend to see, you know, on a daily basis,” Lopez said. But with all the openings, it is getting competitive to bring in talent. USAA just increased their minimum wage to $21. “We’ve seen employers across many different industries increase their salaries, right? We don’t know the full effect of that, but we do know is a fact that you know, in employees or job seekers actually now have a lot of options. So the market to actually secure those, those employees are their job seekers actually just got much tighter,” Lopez said. Lopez said there is a job fair that is happening in just a couple of weeks. “We’re very excited about our 10th annual ‘Red, White and You Job Fair,’ which is a statewide hiring event along with Texas Workforce Commission that’s being hosted on November 4th from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Freeman Coliseum,” Lopez said.

Brownsville Herald - October 17, 2021

Lawsuit targets Diocese of Brownsville on sexual assault allegations

A civil lawsuit filed against the Catholic Diocese of Brownsville that alleges church officials tried to protect a priest accused in the alleged sexual assault of two siblings continues to make its way through the legal system. The lawsuit was filed nearly two months after the Diocese released a list containing the names of 12 priests accused of sexually assaulting children. The accused priest, Father Benedicto Ortiz, was one of the 12 named in the list released by the diocese in 2019. According to the diocese, Ortiz died in 2011. The lawsuit filed March 26, 2019 in Cameron County alleges that in 1982 Ortiz was a priest at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Brownsville, where the individuals – referred to as L.C. and D.S. – attended church. They were between the ages of 10 and 13 at the time Ortiz began to assault them, the lawsuit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, the assaults started when L.C. and D.S. would spend the night with Ortiz and continued when he moved them into the rectory with him. Ortiz is accused of sexually abusing L.C. and D.S from about 1982 to 1985 by exposing himself to the children. The lawsuit states the priest required “them to be naked in his presence, fondling them, requiring them to touch him, and engaging in oral sex, providing Plaintiffs with drugs and alcohol, playing pornographic videos, and masturbating in front of them.” Ortiz also took the children on trips with him to South Padre Island where the alleged abuse continued, the lawsuit states. According to the lawsuit, the bishop at that time, Bishop John Fitzpatrick, knew the siblings were living in the rectory with Ortiz. The Diocese issued a statement on Oct. 5 responding to a request for comment on the lawsuit stating, “The lawsuit against the Diocese of Brownsville was filed by two plaintiffs who claim misconduct by the priest in the early 1980s. The accused priest has been deceased since 2011. The lawsuit was filed in 2019 and has been proceeding through the court system since then, with delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other procedural reasons. We have always taken and continue to take these allegations seriously.

National Stories

Politico - October 16, 2021

‘We’re done’: Immigration advocates stage walkout on Biden administration

Dozens of immigration advocates walked out, virtually, on top Biden officials Saturday in protest of the administration’s decision to continue border policies enacted during the Trump administration, according to several people who were in the meeting. Advocates asked for time before the beginning of a video meeting Saturday morning with several Biden administration officials, including people from the Department of Homeland Security officials and the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Esther Olavarria. The activists read a statement accusing the administration of “playing politics with human lives” and said they could no longer “come into these conversations in good conscience.” The meeting and the subsequent walk out was prompted by the administration’s plans to reinstate Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. | Julio Cortez/AP Photo By ALEX THOMPSON 10/16/2021 06:19 PM EDT Dozens of immigration advocates walked out, virtually, on top Biden officials Saturday in protest of the administration’s decision to continue border policies enacted during the Trump administration, according to several people who were in the meeting. Advocates asked for time before the beginning of a video meeting Saturday morning with several Biden administration officials, including people from the Department of Homeland Security officials and the White House Domestic Policy Council’s Esther Olavarria. The activists read a statement accusing the administration of “playing politics with human lives” and said they could no longer “come into these conversations in good conscience.” “We have sadly reached a turning point,” they said, then most of the advocates exited the video call.

“I cannot stand one more meeting of them pretending,” said Ariana Saludares, a 40-year old advocate from the New Mexico-based Colores United, who was in the meeting. “They give us accolades on the outside, but on the inside, we're having to take out the metaphoric knives from our back.” The meeting and the subsequent walk out was prompted by the administration’s plans to reinstate Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as the “Remain in Mexico” policy. A court struck down Biden’s initial attempt to do away with the Trump-era policy and the administration announced Friday that, beginning next month, they would reinstate the practice of forcing migrants at the southern border to wait in Mexico pending their asylum hearings. A White House official told POLITICO that “the Biden Administration has been very clear that MPP is not an immigration policy we agree with or support. That’s why the Department of Homeland Security immediately appealed the court injunction once it was ordered.” In the meantime, the official said they had to comply with the law, and DHS has announced their intention to issue a new termination memo to get rid of MPP. The official added, “We are incredibly thankful and appreciative of the work immigration advocates and organizations do around the clock to improve our immigration system.”

Politico - October 17, 2021

‘This is the future’: Black Senate candidates crush fundraising expectations

In his bid to hold his Georgia Senate seat, Democrat Raphael Warnock collected a stunning $9.5 million over the last 90 days. Democrat Val Demings, who’s challenging GOP Sen. Marco Rubio in Florida, amassed an eye-popping $8.5 million. In South Carolina, Republican Sen. Tim Scott brought in $8.4 million. All across the Senate map — but particularly in the South — Black candidates posted blowout performances in the most recent campaign fundraising period, leading to an unprecedented cash windfall that stands to reshape the Senate in 2022 and beyond. It’s a dramatic turn of events for a group of candidates who have traditionally struggled to raise the huge sums of money necessary to win marquee statewide elections. As a result, they’ve frequently faced skepticism about their electoral viability or failed to achieve buy-in for their campaigns from party brass.

“This may be an era where we can level the playing field,” said Donna Brazile, a former Democratic National Committee chair. “I think Black candidates have proven more and more than ever that we're talented, but we didn't have the resources to compete...this is the future. This is what I think Dr. [Martin Luther] King and his generation always envisioned.” While individual Black candidates have posted robust fundraising performances in the past, there may never have been a quarter where quite so many raised quite so much. Warnock’s leading Republican challenger, former football star Herschel Walker, collected $3.8 million in his first five weeks of campaigning. In North Carolina, former state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, pulled in $1.5 million over the course of the fundraising quarter that lasted from July through the end of September. Glynda Carr, founder and CEO of Higher Heights, which supports Black female Democratic candidates, points to Demings and Beasley as “proof of concept.” “We continue to prove that we're the best return on investment,” Carr said. “We see more and more donors and institutions supporting Black women early. And so we're moving in the right direction.” The standout numbers weren’t just limited to the South. In Kentucky, Charles Booker, a former state legislator fresh off a 2020 Senate Democratic primary defeat in which he was financially outgunned, raised $1.7 million. And in Wisconsin, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes pulled in $1.1 million in his crowded Senate primary, raising more from donors — both big- and small-dollar — than two of his wealthy white primary opponents, who needed huge personal loans to break the $1 million mark.

Politifact - October 18, 2021

Fact check: Republicans say FBI was told to 'go after' parents who dissent at school board meetings

The claim: “Joe Biden’s attorney general wants the FBI to go after parents for speaking out at school board meetings to protect kids from radical curriculum like critical race theory.” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla. The discussion of race in schools has drawn charges of indoctrination, often under the umbrella term of critical race theory, a school of thought that focuses on systemic, rather than overt, discrimination. PolitiFact rating: False. In his memo to the FBI, Attorney General Merrick Garland specifically said that “spirited debate” is protected. His memo targeted threats that go beyond passionate speech, and said nothing about critical race theory.

The line between sincere debate and words that intimidate isn’t always clear, and there is a concern that officials might apply an overly broad interpretation. In the past, courts have ruled against that sort of loose approach to defining what constitutes a threat. Nothing in Garland’s memo says that is part of the plan. Mainly due to mask mandates, once sleepy school board discussions of budgets and facility management have become noisy events that draw hundreds of angry parents. From Washington state to Georgia, strong feelings about COVID-19 policies have driven most of the debate, but in some places, disagreements over schools’ policies on race, history and equality have been just as vehement. In one instance, demonstrators surrounded a school board member’s car, preventing him from driving away. After one Illinois school board meeting, police arrested an Illinois man for disorderly conduct and aggravated battery. The National School Boards Association asked the Biden administration for help with threats, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland fired off a Justice Department memo to focus on the issue. On Oct. 4, Garland sent a memo to the FBI, every U.S. attorney and the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

NPR - October 17, 2021

The political fight over vaccine mandates deepens despite their effectiveness

The science is clear: Vaccines are a safe and effective way to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death from the coronavirus, and vaccine mandates are an effective tool in promoting widespread vaccinations. Still, the battle to inoculate the nation against the coronavirus has reached a fever pitch in recent months. President Biden has focused on getting as many Americans as possible vaccinated against the coronavirus, most notably rolling out wide-reaching vaccine mandates for government employees and for businesses with more than 100 workers. But Republicans have grown increasingly hostile to the notion of mandatory vaccines — despite vaccine mandates existing in the background in parts of the United States since the 19th century — and have parlayed the fight against COVID-19 into a political battle, with vaccine mandates as the latest frontier in the great American defense of freedom and liberty.

These lawmakers decry the Biden administration's actions as government overreach, but now themselves are telling employers they can't impose mandates even if they want to. Take for example Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, who earlier this week issued an executive order banning mandatory vaccines within private companies. "No entity in Texas can compel receipt of a COVID-19 vaccine by any individual, including an employee or a consumer, who objects to such vaccination for any reason of personal conscience, based on a religious belief, or for medical reasons, including prior recovery from COVID-19," Abbott wrote in his order. The order notes that vaccines are "encouraged" for those who are eligible but should remain "voluntary." Abbott is himself fully vaccinated against the virus and survived a brush with COVID-19 this summer. Florida's Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis — also vaccinated against the virus — has vowed to sue the Biden administration over its federal vaccine mandates. So far, he has made good on his promise to keep such orders out of Florida, having previously fined a county in the state $3.5 million for imposing vaccine mandates on its employees. "We're going to make sure people are able to make their own choices. We're not going to discriminate against people based on those choices, and you're going to have a right to operate in society," DeSantis said, painting the issue of vaccines as a matter of civil liberties.

WFAA - October 17, 2021

Commerce Secretary expects improvement in supply chain issues by Christmas

As we get closer and closer to Christmas, many Texans are becoming ever more worried about whether they’ll even be able to purchase this season’s must-have holiday item. Supply chain gridlock across the globe means many goods are simply stuck on shipping containers, boats, trains and trucks. Factory closures and a shortage of workers and parts mean many other items haven’t even been produced in the first place. It’s all adding up to create a giant mess from ships to shelves. “If this were a multiple-choice test, I would choose ‘D: all of the above,’” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said on Inside Texas Politics. “It’s a worker shortage. It’s a shortage of truck drivers. It’s the fact that demand is really high right now.” The Commerce Secretary says folks have been stuck inside their homes and they’re now ready and eager to spend. And unlike the Great Recession, for instance, economists say Americans have dollars saved to do just that. And Raimondo says people aren’t necessarily spending money on vacations, but instead buying goods.

“We have disruption in the supply at the same time demand is through the roof and it’s just coming together in this really complex mix. The bottom line is it’s frustrating for Americans who see prices higher or lead times longer,” she said. Raimondo says the problem will be fixed, it will just take time. But she sees improvement by Christmas after the Administration initiated a plan to address the bottlenecks. Some ports, including the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, are moving to 24/7 operations. Those two ports alone account for 40% of the containers coming into the United States. The White House also says many big businesses have agreed to similar operating commitments, from Walmart to Target, UPS to FedEx. There is still no word if the Port of Houston will move to a 24/7 operation. But all terminals there are open and operating normally.

Los Angeles Times - October 18, 2021

Bill Clinton heads home after spending six days in a California hospital fighting an infection

Former President Clinton was was seen leaving an Orange County hospital shortly after 8 am Sunday, six days after he was admitted and treated for a urological and blood infection. The 75-year-old is flying to New York with his wife, former secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and his daughter Chelsea, according to an aide. Upon landing, Clinton will head to their family home in Chappaqua, about 30 miles north of New York City. "His fever and white blood cell count are normalized and he will return home to New York to finish his course of antibiotics," said Dr. Alpesh N. Amin, who lead the team of doctors who treated Clinton. "On behalf of everyone at UC Irvine Medical Center, we were honored to have treated him and will continue to monitor his progress."

Clinton, 75, has been a globetrotting celebrity and philanthropist since leaving the White House in 2001, raising millions for his family’s nonprofit Clinton Foundation and getting paid handsomely to speak. Clinton was in Southern California last week — his first trip to the West Coast since the pandemic — to speak at a foundation reception and dinner on Thursday. Hillary Clinton flew to California on Thursday to take his place at the event and to be with him at the hospital. Chelsea Clinton showed up at the medical center on Saturday. The family spent time together catching up, and the former president also spoke with friends and watched college football. On Tuesday, while visiting longtime friends in Orange County, the former president felt fatigued and was admitted to the intensive care unit at UC Irvine Medical Center that evening. Clinton was diagnosed with a urological infection that turned into a blood infection, aides said. Though some media outlets said Clinton had sepsis — a life-threatening response by the body to an infection that can result in tissue damage and organ failure — aides said the former president was never in septic shock, the most severe and deadly stage of sepsis. He was cared for in the intensive care unit because of concerns about COVID-19, an aide added.

CNN - October 18, 2021

Ex-intel official who created controversial Trump Russia dossier speaks out

Former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele, the man behind the "Steele Dossier" that claimed Russian officials held compromising information on former President Donald Trump, defended the claims made in the dossier in his first on-camera interview since it was revealed in 2017. In a clip from an upcoming ABC News documentary released Sunday, Steele said he decided to sit down for an interview now because he wanted to "set the record straight" about his role in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. ABC released a portion of the documentary featuring parts of Steele's interview on Sunday, with the full documentary slated to be released on Hulu early Monday morning. "Most of the world first heard your name about five years ago, but you stayed silent up until now. Why speak out now?" host George Stephanopoulos asked.

"I think the first and most important (reason) is that the problems we identified back in 2016 haven't gone away, and arguably have actually got worse, and I thought it was important to come and set the record straight," Steele said. Steele's unverified dossier became one of the most controversial aspects of the FBI's investigation into Trump and Russia that led to special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Many of the claims, such as the so-called "pee tape," were never proven, despite the FBI's efforts to verify salacious allegations and years of congressional investigators looking into the claims involving the former president and Russia. Mueller's report also concluded that another allegation Steele made -- that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen traveled to Prague in 2016 to meet with Russian officials -- was untrue. Steele reinforced his belief that most of the claims made in the dossier are accurate. "I stand by the work we did, the sources that we had, and the professionalism which we applied to it," Steele said. The FBI's use of Steele's dossier to obtain a foreign surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page was the subject of a scathing Justice Department inspector general report released in 2019. The report found the FBI's Russia investigation was started properly, but it raised serious questions about Steele's sources for the dossier, including the fact that his primary source told the FBI they may have talked about Trump's alleged sexual activities "in jest" and that the tape was "rumor and speculation."

VICE - October 17, 2021

A Capitol rioter represented himself in court and it went very, very wrong

A Jan. 6 Capitol rioter admitted to new crimes he hadn’t been accused of during a court hearing this week, serving as yet another reminder of why you should never try to act as your own lawyer. Brandon Fellows, a 27-year-old from Albany, New York, was charged with multiple crimes, including obstruction of an official proceeding, which could land him in prison for up to 20 years. Fellows is accused of entering the Capitol building during the Jan. 6 riot and was caught on video smoking cannabis in Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley’s office. But on Tuesday, while testifying in his own bond hearing—he admitted to preparing for the wrong kind of hearing—Fellows accidentally described to the court actions that could constitute more crimes: He admitted to listing the phone number of a New York state judge’s wife as his own in an attempt to get the judge dismissed from the case, based on a supposed “loophole” he read about online, according to Courthouse News.

Fellows also admitted to asking his lawyer if he should do that in his federal case. Fellows testified that his lawyer told him: “You did not find a loophole, Brandon, I promise you. If you do this with Judge [Trevor] McFadden, you will be arrested.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fellows’ motion to have his bond status revoked was denied. McFadden told Fellows that he admitted to obstruction of justice and perjury on the stand. “You’ve admitted to incredible lapses of judgment here on the stand, not least of which was seeking to disqualify a New York state judge,” McFadden, a U.S. District Court judge nominated by former President Donald Trump, told Fellows. “You’ve engaged in a pattern of behaviors that shows contempt for the criminal justice system, and I just have no confidence that you will follow my orders if I release you.” Fellows is one of several accused Capitol rioters who’ve fired their lawyers and chosen to represent themselves in court. He did so despite being repeatedly warned by his former public defender and by McFadden that doing so was a bad idea. Fellows did it anyway. “Although, as Justice Blackmun says, I may be a fool to represent myself, I am nowhere near as big a fool as Joe Biden,” Fellows told the court last month.