July 3, 2020

Lead Stories

Reuters - July 2, 2020

US reports 55,000 COVID-19 cases in single day, hits new global record

The United States reported more than 55,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, a new daily global record for the coronavirus pandemic, as infections rose in a majority of states. A surge in coronavirus cases over the past week has put President Donald Trump's handling of the crisis under the microscope and led several governors to halt plans to reopen their states after strict lockdowns. The daily U.S. tally stood at 55,274 late Thursday, topping the previous single-day record of 54,771 set by Brazil on June 19. Coronavirus cases are rising in 37 out of 50 U.S. states including Florida, which confirmed more than 10,000 new cases on Thursday. That marked the state's largest daily spike so far and a level that exceeded single-day tallies from any European country at the height of the outbreak there.

California, another epicenter, saw positive tests climb 37% with hospitalizations up 56% over the past two weeks. Texas Governor Greg Abbott, a Republican who has previously resisted calls to make face masks mandatory, on Thursday ordered them to be worn in all counties with over 20 coronavirus cases. "In the past few weeks, there has been a swift and substantial spike in coronavirus cases," Abbott said in a videotaped message. "We need to refocus on slowing the spread. But this time, we want to do it without closing down Texas again." Texas reported nearly 8,000 new cases on Thursday. New infections were rising in 37 out of 50 U.S. states in the past 14 days compared with the two weeks prior, according to a Reuters analysis. The United States has now recorded nearly 129,000 deaths, nearly a quarter of the known global total. The wave of new cases has several governors halting or back-pedaling on plans to reopen their states after months of strict lockdowns, closing beaches and canceling fireworks displays over the upcoming Independence Day weekend.

Austin American-Statesman - July 2, 2020

Texas hits record 8,000 new coronavirus cases, hospitalizations near 7,000

For the second day in a row, state health officials Wednesday reported record numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, raising concerns ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 8,076 new COVID-19 cases, marking the first time Texas crossed the 8,000 threshold for new cases in a single day. The new cases jumped by more than 1,000 from Tuesday’s record-setting number.

In addition, the 6,904 lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients in Texas hospitals hit a record high for the third day in a row. The continuing spike in cases and hospitalizations came as Texas has seen a surge in younger people testing positive for the coronavirus and increased outbreaks in child care facilities. It also came a day after Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick criticized one of the nation’s top infectious disease experts as overly partisan and frequently wrong. Gov. Greg Abbott has raced to lower the coronavirus numbers — closing bars, limiting restaurant occupancy and halting elective surgeries in eight counties to free hospital space for COVID-19 patients — while rejecting calls for a statewide mask mandate.

Washington Post - July 2, 2020

CBO: Coronavirus pandemic will scar US labor market for the next decade

The U.S. unemployment rate is expected to stay above its pre-pandemic levels through the end of 2030, according to a 10-year economic report released Thursday by the Congressional Budget Office. The agency is predicting that the unemployment rate in the fourth quarter of 2030 will be 4.4 percent, down from 7.6 percent at the end of 2021 and 6.9 percent at the end of 2022. The current level, according to data published Thursday by the Labor Department, is 11.1 percent. Before the spread of the coronavirus pandemic shut down vast swaths of the U.S. economy, unemployment had reached 50-year lows, coming in at 3.5 percent in February.

The new projection shows the long-term impact that economists say the pandemic will have on the U.S. economy, the largest in the world. A severe disruption to production and hiring in March and April has had a jarring impact on the United States. But there is plenty that’s still unknown. Thursday’s projections were “subject to an unusually high degree of uncertainty,” the report said, including “incomplete knowledge about how the pandemic will unfold [and] how effective monetary and fiscal policy will be.” The projections are also based on laws already passed by Congress to extend relief to households, businesses and local governments — but do not account for any future stimulus measures. Lawmakers are currently debating how or whether to extend government aid this summer, including to industries hardest-hit by stay-at-home measures.

Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott requires masks statewide to fight COVID-19, limits size of gatherings

As cases of the coronavirus surge to record highs, Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday ordered Texans to wear face masks in public in counties with outbreaks of COVID-19. Abbott also gave local officials power to restrict outdoor gatherings with more than 10 people ahead of the holiday weekend. “Wearing a face covering in public is proven to be one of the most effective ways we have to slow the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott said. “We have the ability to keep businesses open and move our economy forward so that Texans can continue to earn a paycheck, but it requires each of us to do our part to protect one another—and that means wearing a face covering in public spaces.”

The move marks a major reversal for Abbott, who in April blocked local officials from penalizing people who don’t wear masks, undermining their efforts to require face coverings in public. Those who don’t follow Abbott’s latest order first face a warning, and then fines of up to $250 for any additional offense. The order, which takes effect Friday at noon, requires people over age 10 to wear face coverings inside businesses and other buildings or spaces open to the public. It also requires masks outside, in public spaces when it’s not feasible to stay six feet apart from others. There are some exceptions, including for people who are eating, drinking, exercising, voting or worshipping. Protests are not considered an exception. The requirements apply only in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases. The Texas Medical Association praised the move.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2020

Public Utility Commission extends aid for electricity consumers

The Public Utility Commission extended an emergency program for low-income and unemployed Texans that will subsidize a substantial portion of their power bills for another six weeks. The program, which was launched in March and was scheduled to stop taking applications on July 17, will be extended to Aug. 31 as the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase in Texas. “I just feel like the state is a situation right now that would not warrant us taking action to close it in two weeks,” Chairman DeAnn Walker said.

The electricity relief program is designed as short-term assistance, a way for Texans to get back on their feet while much of the Texas economy is closed. It suspends disconnections for financially stressed Texans who buy electricity in the deregulated market, an area that includes Houston and Dallas. It is funded by a special charge of 0.033 cents per kilowatt hour added to electricity bills. That works out to about 40 cents for residential customers who use 1,200 kilowatt hours of electricity per month. Consumer advocates said they’re pleased the commission is extending the program. “This is certainly a difficult time for many Texans and is important for those who’ve lost their jobs to have some certainty that they won’t lose electricity in the middle of the summer,” said R.A. Dyer, policy analyst for the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, which represents cities in Texas that buy power.

Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2020

If Buc-ee's bathrooms and BBQ aren't enough to beckon Fourth of July visitors, blame COVID-19

Late last month, Jeff Nadalo, general counsel of Buc-ee’s, thought the future for the famed rest stop chain was looking up. The novel coronavirus had caused business to plummet in mid-March, but as things reopened, people hit the road again, making day trips to the beaches and Hill Country and stopping at Buc-ee’s, famous for its clean bathrooms, along their way. Then a surge in COVID-19 cases threw up a roadblock. Gov. Greg Abbott began rolling back his reopening plan, signaling the severity of the pandemic, which threatens to again fill the intensive care units of Houston’s hospitals. People began canceling travel plans, meaning less of the traffic between major cities, which Buc-ee’s depends on.

On Wednesday, Corpus Christi and Galveston announced that they were shutting down their beaches for the Fourth of July, one of the bigger travel weekends of the year. If Houstonians heed Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s call to stay home again and avoid further contagion, that could mean sales at area retailers also take a hit during what is normally a lucrative weekend. Venky Shankar, a professor of marketing and director of research at the Center for Retailing Studies at Texas A&M, said coronavirus precautions will likely deal a blow to retail this weekend, though Buc-ee’s may fare better than the rest. “They’ll still have plenty of motorists,” he said. “Bars are closed, but they still might be hitting the road to see places, maybe do some camping. It will be interesting to see how people approach Houston now that the virus is growing.” As recently as late last month, the Independence Day outlook looked more positive.

Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Joined by Texas lawmakers and lawyers, Houston Rep. Gene Wu calls HPD narcotics audit a 'scam'

Standing outside the site of a fatal drug raid that has mired the Houston Police Department in scandal, state lawmakers on Thursday criticized the internal audit of the narcotics division, calling it a “whitewash” and vowing to propose legislation to prevent government agencies from blocking release of internal audits or similar documents in the future. “This audit is a scam,” said Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, one of the first lawmakers who called on Chief Art Acevedo to release the document. “It doesn’t discuss how higher command at 1200 Travis let these problems get to the point where Harding Street happened. It doesn’t speak to the systemic problems that led to the deaths of Dennis Tuttle and Rhogena Nicholas.”

Acevedo could not immediately be reached for comment. Wu was joined by half a dozen other state representatives along with Mike Doyle and Boyd Smith, two local attorneys representing the relatives of raid victims Nicholas and Tuttle, the couple who lived at 7815 Harding St. Last year, they were killed when undercover narcotics officers burst into their home, looking for drugs. Gunfire erupted that left the couple dead and four officers shot, including Gerald Goines, the officer who led the operation. Police have not released the ballistics report, so identity of who did the shooting is not known. Goines was later accused of lying about the drug buy that led to the operation and is charged with felony murder and other crimes. His former partner, Steven Bryant, faces charges of tampering with a government record.

Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

In shift, Bolivar Peninsula beaches will now be open to foot traffic over July 4th weekend

Less than a day after Galveston County announced it would close beaches in Bolivar Peninsula for the July 4th weekend, the county modified its plan and said it will keep peninsula beaches open to foot traffic at designated times. Galveston County officials announced Thursday that “due to the last minute nature of the beach closure” prompted by the city of Galveston’s decision to close its beaches for the July 4th weekend, the county would now accommodate those who have booked vacation rentals on Bolivar Peninsula by providing limited beach access.

Peninsula beaches, including Crystal Beach, will be closed from 5 a.m. Friday to just after midnight Monday, except to foot traffic only from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. daily. No vehicular traffic will be allowed on the beaches at any time, and the county is discouraging visitors from traveling to Bolivar Peninsula over the holiday weekend. The city of Galveston on Wednesday announced an executive order that will close all of the island’s beaches for the July 4th weekend. Under the order, which takes effect at 5 a.m. Friday, the city will close all of the island’s beach access points and beach parks and restrict parking on the north and south sides of Seawall Boulevard. Pedestrians will not be allowed on the beach, though Seawall Boulevard will remain open to pedestrians and exercise activity. Tailgating, picnicking and sitting stationery on the seawall will be prohibited. The beach closure will end at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Texas unemployment claims tick up, benefits extended

The rate of new claims for unemployment benefits in Texas ticked up last week, data from the Labor Department shows. About 96,000 people in Texas applied for unemployment benefits last week, a bit higher than the 89,000 reported the week prior. The rate of new claims for unemployment insurance has been little changed over the last four weeks, tracking about six times higher than pre-coronavirus rates. Typically, about 14,000 people apply for unemployment benefits in Texas each week. In late March through early April, initial claims surpassed 300,000 per week.

Nationally, the rate of new jobless benefits claims has slowed, with 1.4 million filing for benefits last week, compared to the highs that pushed toward 7 million per week late March and early April. But the still elevated weekly claims rate — before the coronavirus outbreak, typically around 218,000 Americans filed per week — has yet to fall below 1 million. Unemployment benefits have been extended twice in Texas because the state triggered emergency federal programs after reporting high unemployment rates in April and May. Claimants will be eligible for more than a year of state benefits while unemployment rates remain elevated. However, the additional $600 per week provided by the federal CARES Act is slated to expire at the end of July unless extended by Congress.

Houston Chronicle - July 3, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Time will tell if reemployment numbers are a dead-cat bounce

Do not get too excited about the astounding number of people rehired last month; it could be a dead-cat bounce. Employers did a great job rehiring 4.8 million people. Never has a nation’s economy put so many people back to work so quickly. Restaurants led the way, bringing back nearly 1.5 million workers, while non-essential retail stories rehired 740,000. Dentist offices resumed operations, adding 190,000 to the total. But here is an important note: The survey ended June 15, and a lot has happened since then.

The United States has registered 50,000 new COVID-19 cases in a single day, and the national infection rate is climbing. Texas is experiencing exponential growth with more than 8,000 cases recorded Wednesday. The virus is spreading across the country, and it’s not due to protesters. Analysts at investment bank JP Morgan Chase have been tracking customer spending patterns and infection rates, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. They found that when restaurants rang up big tabs, infection rates spiked nearby three weeks later. The correlation between consumers going out and infection rates is why Texas, California and Florida are shutting down bars and restaurants, and New York is delaying indoor dining. Social distancing remains the only tool to slow COVID-19. Consumers have learned that spending significant time in enclosed spaces with strangers is risky. Phone data collected by Safegraph.com, and first reported in the New York Times, shows that retail foot traffic in Houston and San Antonio has dropped as infection rates have climbed since mid-June.

Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Kathaleen Wall campaign ad blames Troy Nehls for ‘revictimizing’ sex trafficking survivor

The latest attack ad from Houston-area congressional candidate Kathaleen Wall accuses her opponent in the GOP primary, former Fort Bend Sheriff Troy Nehls, of neglecting the issue of human trafficking during his seven-year tenure. In the TV ad, which began running last weekend in the Houston market, sex trafficking survivor Courtney Litvak and her parents, who live in Katy, blast Nehls, saying he downplayed the problem. Without giving specifics, Litvak’s father Alan blames Nehls for “revictimizing” her and his family with the way they handled her case, then addresses Nehls directly: “I’d love to have you look me in the eye and tell me how you could possibly sit there and not do your job and not protect my family because that’s what you’ve done for years.”

Nehls said neither he nor his staff ever spoke with Courtney Litvak and that Harris County law enforcement agencies investigated the case but did not make any arrests. Nehls said a lieutenant on his staff tried to interview her, “but the family was completely uncooperative in allowing him access to the daughter.” The ad was released as early voting started in the GOP runoff race for who will represent 22nd Congressional District, which includes most of Fort Bend County plus parts of Brazoria and Harris counties. The winner will face Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni, who last year came within 5 percentage points of taking the seat from the incumbent Rep. Pete Olson, who is retiring this year. Flipping the 22nd District to Democratic control in November is a top-priority for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The new ad cites Houston Chronicle articles that note that Nehls has said there was little evidence of human trafficking in Fort Bend County and has in the past shied away from naming it a top issue.

Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Texas A&M placed on probation for recruiting violations; Jimbo Fisher receives 6-month show-cause penalty

The NCAA announced on Thursday that the Texas A&M football program violated NCAA recruiting and countable athletically related activity rules. The infractions took place during a period between January 2018 and February 2019, according to the NCAA Committee on Infractions. The NCAA determined that A&M coach Jimbo Fisher and an assistant had impermissible recruiting contact with a prospect. It also ruled that activities during spring and summer periods went over the allowed amount of time by seven hours.

“As Texas A&M’s Head Football Coach, I am responsible for promoting and monitoring for NCAA compliance in our program,” Fisher said in a statement. “While I am disappointed in the violations, including an unintended one that resulted from a conversation with a high school athlete, it is still my responsibility to ensure we are adhering to each and every rule. I am pleased to have this matter completely behind our program and look forward to continuing our efforts to make every aspect of our program one all Aggies can continue to be proud of.” The penalties, as approved by the Committee on Infractions, are as follows: One year of probation; A fine of $5,000; A reduction in football official visits by 17 days during the 2019-20 academic year; An off-campus recruiting ban for the entire football coaching staff for November 2019, which reduced the permissible evaluation days for the 2019-20 academic year by 19; A seven-day off-campus recruiting ban for the football coaching staff for the 2020 spring off-campus recruiting period and a 10-day off-campus recruiting ban for the football coaching staff for the 2020 fall off-campus recruiting period; A ban on recruiting any prospects from the prospect's high school for the 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-222 academic years.

Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Retiring Clarendon Rep. Mac Thornberry honored with naming of military spending bill

For 25 years, U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry has been a member of the House Armed Services Committee, rising through its ranks before serving as committee chairman from 2015 to 2019. Now, as he nears his retirement from Congress at the end of this term, the Clarendon Republican’s name is headlining the lower chamber’s National Defense Authorization Act, part of a longstanding tradition to honor current and former chairs of the committee upon their retirement.

“Mac’s commitment to the men and women in uniform and their families remains as fervent as the day he arrived in Washington,” said Chairman Adam Smith, a Washington Democrat who offered the amendment to honor Thornberry, now the ranking member of the committee. “He has advocated for smart reforms that ensure our service members have the resources they need to make our country safer, while backing programs that provide support to the families who serve alongside them. Mac leaves a legacy that will be with us long after he has departed Congress.” The committee’s members gave Thornberry a standing ovation following Smith’s comments. The $740.5 billion bill, named the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021, was approved unanimously Wednesday night.

Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

MJ Hegar has $1.6 million in bank for Senate runoff against Royce West

MJ Hegar raised $1.7 million in the second quarter of this year and has $1.6 million for the July runoff contest against state Sen. Royce West of Dallas, a campaign official said Thursday morning. The fundraising haul, the most Hegar has raised in a quarter since her Senate campaign launched, relates to the period from April 1 through June 24, when she raised $1.6 million, as well as money she collected from June 24 to June 30.

Pre-runoff campaign disclosure reports from Hegar and West are required to be submitted to the Federal Elections Commission on Thursday. The former Air Force helicopter pilot has raised about $6.5 million over the course of her campaign, records show. “With over 56,000 donors, donations from over 190 counties in Texas, over $6.5 million dollars raised, and endorsements from Texas labor unions and other key groups across Texas we have built the grassroots operation it is going to take to send John Cornyn packing in November,” Hegar said in a prepared statement. Meanwhile, West raised $429,691 from April 1 to June 24. He has $159,623 in his campaign account, his campaign spokesperson said. West will report his entire fundraising total for the quarter on July 15, a day after the runoff election.

Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Dallas County will report more than 1,000 new coronavirus cases Friday, public-health director says

Dallas County set a new daily record for coronavirus cases with 708 on Thursday, surpassing the previous single-day high — set Tuesday — by more than 100 cases. On Friday, that number will be more than 1,000, Dr. Philip Huang, the county’s public-health director, said at an afternoon news conference. County officials also announced seven additional deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. Dallas County’s toll from the virus stands at 387.

Five Dallas residents were among the latest victims: two men in their 50s, a woman in her 60s, a woman in her 70s and a man in his 90s. Both of the other victims, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 60s, lived in Irving. The new cases raise the county’s total to 22,590, or about 8.6 for every thousand residents. The county does not report a number of recoveries. Dallas County had previously reported a high of 601 new cases. COVID-19 hospitalizations also are at a record level, with 669 patients in Dallas County hospitals as of Wednesday. And 804 visits to emergency rooms on Wednesday — roughly a third of all ER visits — were for COVID-19 symptoms. Health officials have been monitoring hospitalizations, ER visits and admissions to intensive care units as key indicators of the extent of the virus’s spread, and those numbers all remain high, officials said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Richard Greene: Arlington’s award-winning information effort can counter attacks on local control

Empowering citizens with abundant information about the operations and support systems of government does more to ensure that political power resides where it belongs — in the hands of we the people. Nowhere in the structure of the world’s most successful society does that outcome have a chance to prevail better than at the local level. Neither the state nor the federal governments have as much impact on what we need to support our daily lives than do the elected and management officials of our hometowns.

So when news came a few days ago that the Arlington had achieved the gold level of the national What Works Cities Certification, it confirmed the city’s resolve to aggressively inform residents and businesses. Launched in 2015 by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, the certification evaluates how effectively cities are managed. It measures the extent to which city leaders incorporate data and evidence in their decision making against a national standard of excellence. Arlington is one of only eight cities to have ever achieved the gold-level certification and the only city in Texas to have been recognized at any level. City Manager Trey Yelverton summed up the city’s continued commitment. “We are thrilled to be leveling up to the gold certification this year, and we remain committed to continue investing in technology, processes and policies that create a stronger, smarter local government,” he said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Raise a glass: Texas drinks-to-go rules make a bit more sense, thanks to this change

We could all use some good news. Especially if it coincides with common sense. And for it to come from the byzantine world of Texas’ alcohol regulations makes it all the more enjoyable. Soon after Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to close again in hopes of stemming the resurgent coronavirus, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission relented on letting restaurants sell mixed drinks to go. Before, the state required a shell game in which the establishment could provide a mixer and a travel-size bottle and let the customer finish the job at home.

The new arrangement is much better. It allows for a wider range of drinks, lets adults make their own choices and will restore a key profit point for many restaurants. And like many other changes undertaken as we adapt to the pandemic, it might point the way to more sensible laws and regulations for the Legislature to consider next year. Under the alcoholic beverage commission’s new rules, restaurants already permitted to sell mixed drinks can package them with any food order, including those delivered by third-party services. They must be sealed and, essentially, carried in the trunk. There’s no limit to how much can be ordered. Beer and wine can be sold to-go, too, as long as they’re sealed in their original packages. (In the service of your pocketbook, we’d like to note how easy margaritas in particular are to make. For the cost of a few $14 margaritas-to-go, you could easily have the ingredients and tools for many more, from a respectable tequila to a functional cocktail shaker. But whatever works for you.)

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

How TMS plans to handle Gov. Abbott’s mask mandate when it welcomes fans back in July

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage doesn’t believe Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate issued Thursday will impact the July 19 NASCAR race at the track too much. The race is scheduled to become the state’s first sporting event with fans in the stands since the sports world shut down in mid-March amid the coronavirus pandemic. Gossage has strongly encouraged fans to wear masks to the race and said the track will abide by whatever protocols the state suggests now that masks are mandatory.

“We will seek the counsel of Governor Abbott’s office on how that [mask mandate] will be enforced,” Gossage said. “We will, of course, follow their direction. We would have expected most, if not all, in attendance would be wearing masks, regardless of the governor’s order.” The state is allowing outdoor sporting venues such as TMS to hold up to 50% capacity. That would account for approximately 62,500 fans to attend the race, but Gossage said the track “will not be close” to reaching 50% capacity.

San Antonio Express-News - July 2, 2020

UTSA lays off 312 people, including most of staff at UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures

Most of the staff of the University of Texas at San Antonio Institute of Texan Cultures has been laid off, including the director of the Texas Folklife Festival. Six people remain on staff, and six new positions are being created as part of an ongoing restructuring plan designed to expand the institute’s digital footprint and to get more students involved in its programming. Twenty staffers were notified Wednesday that they were losing their jobs, part of a cost-cutting effort by the university to deal with a $36 million budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus pandemic. A total of 312 UTSA employees were let go.

At the Institute of Texan Cultures, those laid off include Jo Ann Andera, who had been director of the Texas Folklife Festival, the institute’s signature event, for 38 years. This year’s festival, which was slated for June 6-7, was canceled because of the pandemic. It will be rescheduled when it is safe to produce, said Dean Hendrix, UTSA’s dean of libraries, the department that the institute falls under. Andera declined to comment on the end of her career at the institute, which began in 1970 when she was hired as a bilingual tour guide. She wrote a brief post on Facebook in which she described Wednesday as “a very sad day for my colleagues and friends.” It drew more than 300 comments from people praising her leadership of the festival and expressing sorrow over her departure.

San Antonio Express-News - July 2, 2020

Rep. Joaquin Castro endorses Royce West for U.S. Senate

Congressman Joaquin Castro of San Antonio said Thursday that he is throwing his support behind state Sen. Royce West in the Democratic primary runoff for U.S. Senate. Castro, who joins a growing list of prominent Democrats backing the candidate, said he endorsed West because of the work he’s done in his more than two decades in the Legislature. Castro had endorsed Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez in February before the field in the primary slimmed down to West and former Air Force pilot MJ Hegar in the runoff. Tzintzún Ramirez has also endorsed West.

“Royce West has fought for health care and criminal justice reforms for years — successfully,” said Castro, who worked with West when he was in the Texas House. “He is best suited to provide leadership to more than 25 million Texans as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic and work to reform policing in America.” Hegar, meanwhile, has the support of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which made an unusually early endorsement that angered some who saw it as the establishment unfairly tipping the scales as 12 candidates competed in the primary. High-profile Democrats who have endorsed Hegar include former presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

Next City - July 2, 2020

Texas’s high school voter registration law fails to live up to ideals

A1983 Texas law requiring high school principals to register eligible voters is still unequally enforced nearly four decades later. The law by the late State Rep. Paul Ragsdale, a Dallas Democrat who died in 2011, requires high school principals to serve as voter registrars and register eligible students twice a year. According to the law, the Secretary of State, which assists county election officials with elections, is required to provide principals with instructions for requesting voter registration cards. But the office cannot enforce the law and is not even required to track requests for ballots. The level of school engagement is ultimately left to individual secretaries of state. At the beginning of each semester, the office emails high school principals with instructions on requesting ballots, registering students and returning ballots.

That’s not enough for Pearland Independent School District Trustee Mike Floyd. “Their office doesn’t work with us. They send an email at the beginning of the year to principals, but it’s just another email for them to read when they are already overwhelmed. Their job is to enforce the election code,” he says. Floyd was elected to his at-large position in 2017, beating a two-term incumbent who was criticized for inflammatory Facebook posts about Muslims and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Floyd was also 18 years old, then a senior at Dawson High School. His strategy prioritized youth engagement, including aggressively promoting voter registration. “If we got students engaged, then they would tell their parents about me, the parents would usually be surprised their teenager knew about a local election, and I’d get two more votes,” he says. Pearland’s election that year saw increased turnout from an average of 2,000 to 10,000 voters. “By Texas’s municipal election standards, that’s an impressive amount,” he says. Studies show multiple benefits to engaging young voters. According to Penn State research, voting is a habit, so young people who get into the habit early are more likely to become lifelong voters. And, as Floyd discovered, when young people living with their parents talk about voting, it may influence their parents to become voters too.

NBC News - July 2, 2020

Kyleen Wright: The Supreme Court struck down an abortion law that would have protected women's health

In 2012, Texans for Life was contacted by a young woman who had recently had an abortion in Dallas. Despite being an ardent supporter of legal abortion, she was unhappy with her experience with the doctor she went to and was demanding change so higher medical standards would be in place at abortion clinics. That even women who support abortion access and had gone through the procedure themselves want better accountability for the doctors who perform abortions makes it clear that standards of care must be raised. Which is why it is particularly disappointing that the Supreme Court on Monday struck down a law, by a vote of 5-4, that would have done so.

The legislation, passed in Louisiana, required those performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles. It was similar to a law in Texas that my organization supported but that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, in the case Whole Woman's v. Hellerstedt. Abortion supporters claim that those of us advocating for admitting requirements are only trying to limit abortion access, since they do have the effect of lowering the number of doctors who can perform the procedure and my group does want to see abortion outlawed. But they conveniently are ignoring that real women are also suffering in cases of inadequate care. We support life — and good health care is a part of that. It is also particularly important given how many of the women seeking abortions are young, scared and often alone. Indeed, what struck me most about the young woman who turned to Texans for Life for help in 2012 was that she, unlike many other young women, knew from experience what a surgical consultation before a medical procedure is supposed to look like — and whether it was not adequate — because she was the daughter of a nurse. After her prolonged insistence, I agreed to look into the doctor, Jasbir Ahluwalia. A 2002 article in The Dallas Morning News reported numerous malpractice cases, including a couple who accused him of causing permanent brain damage to their child during delivery, which was eventually settled for more than $1.3 million. The story noted that Ahluwalia had also settled cases for perforating uteruses during two other abortions.

Waco Tribune-Herald - July 2, 2020

Congressional candidate Renee Swann, husband test positive for COVID-19 with early voting underway

District 17 congressional candidate Renee Swann announced Wednesday she and her husband have tested positive for COVID-19. Swann could not be reached on her cellphone Wednesday evening but reported on her campaign Facebook page that she and her husband both are asymptomatic and are going to be in quarantine for the next 10 days. Her campaign manager did not immediately return a phone message Wednesday.

“This campaign continues to get more interesting,” Swann wrote on her campaign Facebook page. Swann campaigned outside Waco High School without a mask Monday on the first day of early voting in her runoff race against former Dallas Congressman Pete Sessions. Swann and Sessions are seeking the Republican nomination to succeed retiring Congressman Bill Flores. The winner in the July 14 runoff will face David Jaramillo or Rick Kennedy, who are in a Democratic primary runoff. Sessions said he is sorry to hear the Swanns have tested positive for the coronavirus. “We want to send our prayers and best wishes to Russell and Renee Swann for their full recovery from COVID-19,” Sessions said in a statement. “This virus is serious, and everyone must take precautions. We hope to see them on the campaign trail soon.”

FOX 4 - July 2, 2020

Dallas to distribute $500,000 for immigrant families impacted by COVID-19

The city of Dallas has received $500,000 to distribute to families who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, prioritizing those who aren’t eligible for federal relief programs, including immigrant workers.

The city’s Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs partnered with the Open Society Foundation to establish the Emma Lazarus Resilience Fund. The $500,000 will be given to nonprofit organizations that have “demonstrated track records serving immigrant families in Dallas,” and they will then collect non-personal identifying information from those given financial assistance. The data will be collected and analyzed to “inform future emergency response for Dallas’ immigrant residents.” The hope is to attract more funding through donations and foundations in Dallas.

The Guardian - July 2, 2020

'We don't live in a communist country!': battle over masks rages in Texas

(Note: This story published before Gov. Abbott mandated maskls be worn in public.) The driver license mega center in Fort Worth closed abruptly, just minutes before 1pm on Tuesday. Staff removed the two tables outside the entrance that recorded all visitors’ contact information, health histories and performed temperature checks. Since reopening on 3 June, the facility had spaced seats inside to meet social distancing guidelines, cleaned surfaces regularly and only served those who booked appointments online. All workers wore masks, and anybody allowed in was required to wear a face covering. But despite the precautions, a Covid-19 case had been reported there. One of the people turned away was Laurie Smith, 50. She is an administrative employee at a local church, where she is also a member, and calls mandatory mask requirements a sign of “sad” government manipulation. “My college-age kids are able to follow the recommendations without questioning it, but my husband and I are of a different generation, and we value our liberty to be able to make our own choices. So we question it more than they do,” she said. Her daughter shook her head silently in the passenger seat but did not say anything. Neither of them wore a mask.

The science of wearing masks to prevent the spread of coronavirus seems to be largely settled, but the politics around it is still raging, especially in conservative strongholds like Texas. Stores, churches, small businesses, government offices and other institutions across the state are grappling with how to enforce public health rules without alienating those who disagree. Mask-wearing soon turned into a partisan squabble between lovers of liberty who hate government mandates and supporters worried about getting sick or infecting others. The consequences of the deep divisions are starting to appear as coronavirus cases surge in Texas, but a mask remains a public health, political and religious statement. Covid-19 hospitalizations across the state have more than tripled since the beginning of the month, and hit an all-time daily record of 8,076 cases on Wednesday, according to the state health department.. Greg Abbott has refused to order a statewide requirement to wear masks to protect individuals’ liberty and avoid alienating his core base, but has pleaded with citizens to do so anyway.

Texas Lawbook - July 2, 2020

Dallas and Harris County juries projected to be whiter, more conservative as pandemic persists

Juries in Houston are likely to become whiter and more conservative as fear of the coronavirus exists, according to a new study. A survey by the Tillotson Law Firm of 650 potential jurors in Houston and Dallas found that more than two-thirds said they either would refuse to show up for jury duty if called or would want a significant amount of assurance that their personal health would not be at risk before they would agree to attend.

Harris and Dallas county juries during the COVID-19 pandemic would be significantly less diverse, the survey shows. The Tillotson data found that jury pools today would be comprised of more white people, more men, people with more wealth, an increased number of Republicans and individuals who are considerably less friendly toward plaintiffs than juries before the crisis. And there’s one additional warning: A significant percentage of the prospective jurors said they would be “very angry” if they were summonsed to jury duty at this time. “We did the survey to find out who would show up for jury service - or even if people would show up - if the courts started conducting trials now,” said Dallas trial lawyer Jeff Tillotson, who represents businesses that are plaintiffs and defendants in litigation.

WFAA - July 2, 2020

'The disease is a human issue': LULAC demands action from Gov. Abbott regarding COVID-19 among Latinos

The League of United Latin American Citizens sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday demanding action to counter a spike in COVID-19 cases in the Latino community. In the letter, LULAC National President Domingo Garcia urged Abbott to "take action now" as the disease continues to surge across Texas.

"When you ran for governor, you said all Texans mattered. Now is the time to prove it to the Hispanic Community, as we are the most at risk in this pandemic," Garcia said. Within the letter, LULAC declared announced a Statewide Public Safety Alert for Hispanics in Texas and also a Statewide Public Health Emergency. Texas Health officials say Hispanics are disproportionately getting sick and dying from the disease. According to Garcia, in some cases, families have had multiple loved ones get sick or die. A large percentage of Latino victims are in the state's latest hotspots, according to the letter.

Austin American-Statesman - July 2, 2020

Live PD captures second violent arrest, drawing scrutiny of deputies in Javier Ambler case

J.J. Johnson and Zach Camden were among five Williamson County deputies who unleashed a barrage of punches, knee jabs and Taser shocks as Ramsey Mitchell writhed on the ground last June screaming, “I can’t breathe!” at least four times. Johnson and Camden pulled over Mitchell, a 37-year-old white man, because there was no license plate on the front of his car. Mitchell attempted to flee and arrived a couple hours later at the Williamson County Jail, where a mugshot captured images of his blackened eye and contusions covering the right side of his head.

Just three months earlier, the same officers had pulled over Javier Ambler for failing to dim his headlights. After chasing Ambler for 22 minutes, the deputies repeatedly tased the 40-year-old black father with a heart condition. He died while screaming those same words: “I can’t breathe!” The clashes with Mitchell and Ambler are among at least five use-of-force incidents in the past 18 months involving Williamson County deputies that are currently under investigation by prosecutors and outside law enforcement agencies, Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick told the American-Statesman. He declined to provide details of the other incidents being investigated, but video footage and public documents recently obtained by the Statesman shed new light on the Mitchell incident.

County Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

As demand for COVID tests spikes, Tarrant County’s test sites ‘completely booked out’

Over the weekend, Jeff’s elderly father developed a fever, chills and broke out into sweat. Among other tests, his doctor recommended he get tested for the novel coronavirus. At 81 years old, Jeff’s father is at higher risk of developing complications if he contracts the virus. And while his dad lives alone in Arlington, Jeff, who asked his last name not be used to protect his father’s privacy, wanted to be cautious and help reduce the spread if his dad did have it — especially for the handful of caregivers that assist his dad. So on Sunday, Jeff, who lives over 1,500 miles away in California, started to look for an appointment in Tarrant County for his dad to get tested.

Jeff filled out the screening questions through Tarrant County Public Health’s portal and was told his dad qualified for a drive-through COVID-19 test. “These are the earliest available appointments based on the zip code you provided,” the webpage read. There were none. Jeff called the county’s COVID hotline to try and find out exactly when more would be available. They didn’t have a concrete answer, and recommended to just keep checking back. “That’s the part where the system seems to be broken. It’s very disappointing. It’s discouraging, disheartening. It creates a little bit of anxiety,” Jeff said, noting that cases are only increasing. “Are we gonna be able to make things better if we can’t get enough testing to find out who’s got it?” Jeff isn’t the only one who’s been unable to schedule a test. Demand for testing has skyrocketed, in both Tarrant County and across Texas as the state sees all-time highs in new cases. Tarrant County Public Health Director Vinny Taneja said that recently the county’s screening portal has seen as many as 1,500 people try to schedule an appointment per day. Meanwhile, available appointments through the county’s portal are between 150 to 550 depending on the number of sites operating, Taneja said.

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Notorious criminal group hacks Fort Worth agency, holding data for ransom, experts say

A ransomware gang is holding Fort Worth’s regional transportation agency’s private data hostage, according to two cybersecurity companies that monitor the criminal group. The group NetWalker hacked Trinity Metro’s private files and is threatening to release all their data unless Trinity Metro gives them money, threat analysts from Emsisoft and Binary Defense told the Star-Telegram.

A Trinity Metro spokeswoman said they cannot comment on cybersecurity issues. As of Thursday, the agency had not sent any information on the hack. On their website, Trinity Metro posted a notice that their phone lines and ACCESS booking system were down due to a “technical issue.” NetWalker is a notorious ransomware group that has attacked agencies, universities and groups across the world. On Thursday, the criminal group posted screenshots of Trinity Metro’s encrypted data files on their online blog on the dark-web, said Randy Pargman, senior director of threat hunting and counterintelligence at the cybersecurity company Binary Defense. Emsisoft Malware Lab also sent the Star-Telegram the screenshots from NetWalker’s blog. RansomLeaks, a Twitter account that describes itself as “Scouring the dank web for fresh ransomware leaks” also identified Trinity Metro as NetWalker’s latest victim. The screenshots on the blog show a list of hundreds of files with labels such as “Vendor W9s,” “Passenger information system,” and “ACCESS stuff.”

Dallas Morning News - July 2, 2020

Trying to cut months-long wait times, Dallas schools put millions for staffing to address student mental health

Dallas ISD will nearly double its number of mental health professionals for the upcoming school year. Tucked into the district’s $1.646 billion general operating budget approved by trustees on Thursday is $5.8 million for 57 new “mental health clinicians” -- licensed social workers, licensed counselors and licensed specialists in school psychology dedicated to helping students with behavioral, emotional and social issues. “Collectively, we have all heard the need for more services to students for mental health,” said Dallas ISD’s Assistant Superintendent for School Leadership Leslie Stephens.

When Stephens assumed oversight of the district’s mental health efforts in November, she was stunned to discover that in some instances, students and families were on a three-month wait list to receive counseling or therapy. “I was appalled,” Stephens said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, if that was my own child, and they were going through something or I felt like that they needed long-term counseling, my anxiety level probably would have risen.’” Last year, for care beyond what a school counselor would normally offer, the district had two separate departments providing services: 23 mental health clinicians were based out of the district’s 11 youth and family centers, while another 38 clinicians roamed the district’s campuses. Long wait lists were common at the family centers, Stephens said, and the campus-based providers served up to eight different schools -- and were pulled into crisis counseling situations as those popped up throughout the school year.

National Stories

Gallup - July 2, 2020

Assessment of US COVID-19 situation increasingly bleak

As coronavirus infections are spiking in U.S. states that previously had not been hard-hit, a new high of 65% of U.S. adults say the coronavirus situation is getting worse. The percentage of Americans who believe the situation is getting worse has increased from 48% the preceding week, and from 37% two weeks prior. The latest results, from June 22-28, are based on Gallup's online COVID-19 tracking survey, which interviews weekly random samples from Gallup's probability-based panel.

Last week, governors in many states paused or rolled back plans to ease restrictions on economic activity as states in the South and West dealt with a surge in coronavirus infections and hospitalizations. Gallup first asked Americans in early April to say whether they thought the coronavirus situation was getting better or worse. At that time, 56% said it was getting worse and 28% better, the most negative assessment prior to the latest reading. From late April through early June, there were several weeks in which more Americans said the situation was getting better than getting worse. Today, there is widespread agreement among Americans in all parts of the country that the situation is getting worse. Between 62% and 68% of those living in the four major regions of the U.S. say it is worsening.

CNBC - July 2, 2020

Trump ambassadors sold stocks as president downplayed pandemic and virus was spreading

Several U.S. ambassadors actively shed their stock holdings as President Donald Trump tried to downplay the coronavirus outbreak in its early stages. Ambassadors to Uruguay, France, Morocco and Italy sold shares in transactions that could have made them millions of dollars, according to financial disclosure filings reviewed by CNBC. Much of their sales were in January and continued throughout February, the records show. Their transactions line up with a timeline of federal and congressional announcements as the virus started sweeping across the globe earlier this year.

Some of the ambassadors’ stock transactions were for companies involved with research or developing products that are linked to treating patients that have contracted the coronavirus, such as biopharmaceutical firms. Trump started publicly downplaying the severity of the pandemic earlier this year, including in late January during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. At that event, he told CNBC that the administration had it “under control. It’s going to be just fine.” Italy and France have coronavirus death tolls that are close to or above 30,000. Morocco and Uruguay have combined for over 200 deaths. More than 10.7 million people have been infected worldwide, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally. As the White House scrambled to respond to the spread of the virus, Ambassadors Lewis Eisenberg, Jamie McCourt, David Fischer and Kenneth George were seeing large gains from stock transactions, their filings show.

Los Angeles Times - July 2, 2020

Biden surpasses Trump in June fundraising

Joe Biden reported raising $10 million more than President Trump last month amid new polls showing the former vice president holding a solid lead in the race for the White House. The increasingly strong footing of Trump's presumed Democratic challenger comes at a time when most Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality, polls show.

Biden and the Democratic National Committee reported raising $141 million in June, surpassing the $131 million in donations to Trump's reelection campaign and the Republican National Committee. For April, May and June combined, Biden also eclipsed Trump, collecting $282 million with the DNC as the president and the RNC took in $266 million. "It's clear that voters are looking for steady leadership, experience, empathy, compassion, and character — and they'll find all of these qualities in Vice President Joe Biden," Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon told supporters in an email. Biden's campaign did not disclose how much cash it had on hand, so it's unclear whether it has overcome its previously strong disadvantage on that score. Trump and the RNC reported $295 million in the bank at the end of June.

The Verge - July 3, 2020

Tech billionaire Peter Thiel may ditch Trump because he thinks Trump will lose

Billionaire Peter Thiel, the most famous Trump supporter in tech, is distancing himself from the president’s reelection campaign. Thiel fears President Donald Trump will lose the race, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. Thiel soured on Trump after COVID-19 left tens of millions of Americans unemployed; the billionaire believes that there will be a profound recession when November rolls around, making Trump vulnerable to challenge.

Thiel was a vocal supporter of the president in 2016, speaking at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and donating $1.25 million that year to his campaign and other adjacent political groups and causes. Thiel, who earned his fortune co-founding PayPal before becoming one of the earliest Facebook investors, has no plans on donating any money to Trump’s campaign this year, the report says. Thiel’s libertarian views made him somewhat of an outlier in the liberal Bay Area — so much so that it was Thiel’s excuse for decamping to Los Angeles in 2018, where he now lives. (Thiel’s positions on government spending, immigration, and other issues have been well-known since his days at Stanford University.)

Wall Street Journal - July 3, 2020

Hong Kong security law stuns international business: ‘It turns out it is really bad’

As China drew up a new security law for Hong Kong last month, its top Foreign Ministry official in the city gathered international business groups and diplomats to deliver a message from Beijing: Don’t panic. The law would target only a small group of radicals and wouldn’t impede the free market ethos behind Hong Kong’s rise as a global business hub, the official said. But now that businesspeople are finally seeing the law, there is much to cause concern.

While no one expects the giant money flows coursing through Hong Kong to cease anytime soon, the law sets in motion fundamental changes that threaten to erode the city’s special role as a gateway connecting Western finance and know-how with China Inc. “Businesses were kind of waiting and laying their bets to see how bad it would be, and then it turns out it is really bad,” said Christopher Hughes, a London School of Economics professor of international relations who focuses on Chinese foreign policy. “I wouldn’t be surprised if changes happen faster than you think.” The law targets four political crimes: secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference. But lawyers said its wording is so broad that it is easy to imagine how a business dispute with a Chinese company could end up construed as a breach of the law, putting executives at risk of prosecution.

Associated Press - July 2, 2020

US unemployment falls to 11%, but new shutdowns are underway

U.S. unemployment fell to 11.1% in June as the economy added a solid 4.8 million jobs, the government reported Thursday. But the job-market recovery may already be faltering because of a new round of closings and layoffs triggered by a resurgence of the coronavirus. While the jobless rate was down from 13.3% in May, it is still at a Depression-era level. And the data was gathered during the second week of June, before a number of states began to reverse or suspend the reopenings of their economies to try to beat back the virus.

“This is a bit of a dated snapshot at this point,” said Jesse Edgerton, an economist at J.P. Morgan Chase. The news came as the number of confirmed infections per day in the U.S. soared to an all-time high of 50,700, more than doubling over the past month, according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University. The spike, centered primarily in the South and West, has led states such as California, Texas, Arizona and Florida to re-close or otherwise clamp down again on bars, restaurants, movie theaters, beaches and swimming pools, throwing some workers out of a job for a second time. President Donald Trump said the jobs report shows the economy is “roaring back,” though he acknowledged there are still areas where “we’re putting out the flames” of the virus. The job losses over the past two weeks will be reflected in the July unemployment report, to be released in early August.

July 2, 2020

Lead Stories

NBC News and ProPublica - July 2, 2020

Internal messages reveal crisis at Houston hospitals as coronavirus cases surge

At Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital on Sunday, the medical staff ran out of both space for new coronavirus patients and a key drug needed to treat them. With no open beds at the public hospital, a dozen COVID-19 patients who were in need of intensive care were stuck in the emergency room, awaiting transfers to other Houston area hospitals, according to a note sent to the staff and shared with reporters. A day later, the top physician executive at the Houston Methodist hospital system wrote to staff members warning that its coronavirus caseload was surging: “It has become necessary to consider delaying more surgical services to create further capacity for COVID-19 patients,” Dr. Robert Phillips said in the note, an abrupt turn from three days earlier, when the hospital system sent a note to thousands of patients, inviting them to keep their surgical appointments.

And at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, staff members were alerted recently that the hospital would soon begin taking in cancer patients with COVID-19 from the city’s overburdened public hospital system, a highly unusual move for the specialty hospital. These internal messages highlight the growing strain that the coronavirus crisis is putting on hospital systems in the Houston region, where the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has nearly quadrupled since Memorial Day. As of Tuesday, more than 3,000 people were hospitalized for the coronavirus in the region, including nearly 800 in intensive care. “To tell you the truth, what worries me is not this week, where we’re still kind of handling it,” said Roberta Schwartz, Houston Methodist’s chief innovation officer, who’s been helping lead the system’s efforts to expand beds for COVID-19 patents. “I’m really worried about next week.” What’s happening in Houston draws eerie parallels to New York City in late March, when every day brought steep increases in the number of patients seeking care at overburdened hospitals — though, so far, with far fewer deaths. But as coronavirus cases surge in Texas, state officials here have not reimplemented the same lockdown measures that experts say helped bring New York’s outbreak under control, raising concern among public health officials that Houston won’t be able to flatten the curve. “The time to act and time to be alarmed is not when you’ve hit capacity, but it’s much earlier when you start to see hospitalizations increase at a very fast rate,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology who leads the University of Texas at Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “It is definitely time to take some kind of action. It is time to be alarmed.”

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

TMC hospitals go into Phase 2 surge plans as ICU capacity exceeds 100 percent

Texas Medical Center hospitals Wednesday began converting some regular floor beds into intensive care units in response to a spike in COVID-19 patients that brought volumes above base capacity. The hospitals invoked their surge plans’ “Phase 2” after their ICU capacity exceeded 100 percent for the first time during the pandemic, according to a medical center dashboard slide. The phase involves reallocating staff and equipment to create more ICU space.

The dashboard slides last week showed medical center hospital ICU capacity was 100 percent last week, but the number represented a rounding up — there were still five beds open. On Wednesday, the ICUs reached 102 percent of capacity. The medical center, which boasts 1,330 ICU beds under Phase 1 operations, had 1,350 such patients in house Wednesday. Full invocation of Phase 2 would provide 373 additional ICU beds. Phase 3, if necessary, would provide another 504. COVID-19 patients comprise 480 of the 1,350 ICU patients. The overcapacity comes as the Harris Healthy System, the county’s safety-net health care network, has made numerous transfers. Lyndon B. Johnson and Ben Taub hospitals have sent 33 patients to other hospitals in the last 24 hours and were working on 15 more Wednesday morning. The 48 patients represent 10 percent of the two hospitals’ combined regular adult acute care beds (ICU and medical/surgical beds).

Washington Post - July 2, 2020

Trump supporters hope to use conservative anger at Roberts as energizing moment for troubled campaign

The White House is trying to capitalize on conservative anger at Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. over his latest decisions by telling evangelical leaders and other activists that they need to turn out voters for President Donald Trump so he can use a second term to continue nominating conservative judges to the nation's highest court. Some recent polls have shown a weakening in support for Trump among evangelicals, who have long been among the president's strongest supporters. But Roberts's role in cases advancing both gay and abortion rights is now seen in the White House as an opening to shore up that part of Trump's political base.

Ralph Reed, the founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said there is frustration and disappointment in evangelical ranks about Roberts's rulings, but he said he and others are not going to walk away from Trump. "Voters of faith know that that project to shift the court in a more conservative direction is on the 5-yard line and it's a strategic imperative to get President Trump reelected," Reed said. "The Louisiana decision has brought the life issue into fuller relief and reminded us why we have to give the president the chance to nominate more justices." In a remarkable stretch of decisions over the past two weeks, Roberts has infuriated conservatives and the Trump administration by finding that federal anti-discrimination law protects gay, bisexual and transgender workers and stopping the president from ending the federal program that protects undocumented immigrants brought into the country as children. In Monday's decision striking down a restrictive Louisiana abortion law, Roberts said the court's allegiance to honoring its past decisions meant striking down a law almost identical to one in Texas that the court said in 2016 was unconstitutional. Still, even as the White House works to reassure conservatives, it faces challenges in containing the rage over the George W. Bush appointee's alignment with liberal colleagues and ensuring that his rulings do not depress the president's core voters. "John G. Roberts Jr. has stabbed the American people in the back more than Norman Bates and 'swings' more than Hugh Hefner in his heyday," former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, an evangelical leader, tweeted on Tuesday, adding that Roberts should "Resign Now."

Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

‘I don’t need his advice anymore’, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says of top COVID-19 expert Dr. Fauci

As cases of the coronavirus surge in Texas, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says he is done listening to the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. On Fox News Tuesday, Patrick accused Fauci of being wrong “every time, on every issue,” but Patrick did not offer any evidence. “I don’t need his advice anymore,” Patrick told host Laura Ingraham. “We will listen to a lot of science. We will listen to a lot of doctors. And Gov. Abbott, myself and other state leaders will make the decision. No thank you, Dr. Fauci.”

His statement comes as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Texas have soared to record levels. In a Tuesday hearing, Fauci made a grim projection that the country’s daily case count could more than double if “this does not turn around.” Fauci raised specific concerns with four states -- Florida, Texas, California and Arizona -- that he said account for more than half of the country’s new infections. States that start to open again need to follow safety guidelines that have been “very carefully laid out,” Fauci told senators. “What we’ve seen in several states are different iterations of that, perhaps maybe in some, going too quickly and skipping over some of the checkpoints,” he said during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. Fauci did not specifically name Texas, which was in the first wave of states to begin lifting coronavirus restrictions on businesses. The reopening began before Texas had fully driven the virus into decline or met its own goals for testing. New cases began to rise in June.

State Stories

CNN - July 1, 2020

Fact-checking Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick's attacks on Dr. Fauci

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick on Tuesday evening took some direct shots at Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a member of the President's coronavirus task force. Specifically, Patrick took issue with comments that Fauci had made earlier in the day during a Senate hearing, when he suggested that some states had reopened too fast and skipped some guidelines in the process. Texas was among the first states to begin reopening in early May but Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has recently reversed course after a spike in coronavirus cases. In defending Texas's reopening strategy, Patrick claimed that "Fauci said today that he's concerned about states like Texas that skipped over certain things."

Facts First: Based on available data, Patrick is wrong to suggest that Texas didn't skip over anything when it decided to reopen. When Texas reopened on May 1, the state was not in accordance with the criteria outlined by the White House coronavirus task force. It's also absurd to suggest that Fauci has been wrong about every issue. During the Senate hearing, Fauci called out Texas along with three other states that are now hotspots for outbreaks. "As you know, in four of the states -- in Florida, Texas, California and Arizona -- more than 50% of the new infections are in those areas where we are seeing surges," Fauci testified. Fauci then said that "perhaps" some states were "going too quickly and skipping over some of the checkpoints" laid out by the White House guidelines for reopening. "When states start to try and open again they need to follow the guidelines that have been very carefully laid out with regard to check points," Fauci said in the hearing. "What we've seen in several states are different iterations of that. Perhaps maybe in some, going too quickly and skipping over some of the checkpoints."

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Even Trump allies are demanding answers on Russian bounties. Why not Cornyn?

President Donald Trump continued his tirade on Twitter Wednesday morning about the “fake news” that he had for months sat on intelligence reports that Russia had secretly offered bounties to the Taliban for killing American troops in Afghanistan. He insisted again that he had never been briefed about these reports, never mind that they were apparently included in a February daily presidential briefing, which aides have previously said he rarely reads. “Do people still not understand that this is all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party,” he retweeted early Wednesday. “I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level.” Fortunately for the country, if not for the president, his typically solid wall of support in Congress is buckling. Leading Republicans have demanded answers and called the reports extraordinarily serious.

“Anything with any hint of credibility that would endanger our service members, much less put a bounty on their lives, to me should have been briefed immediately to the commander in chief and a plan to deal with that situation,” Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, told reporters on Monday. Eight senior GOP congressional leaders, including Thornberry and U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, were briefed Monday by the White House chief of staff and others. They were told Trump had not been told of the reports because the intelligence from March was still being vetted. McCaul, the ranking member of the House foreign affairs committee, told NPR that at least one intelligence agency had raised serious concerns about the validity of the reports. It’s true that there is much we don’t know yet about the chilling reports. But we do know for certain that the president never took any steps to safeguard our soldiers in combat or to confront an untrustworthy foreign power who claimed to be our “partner for peace” in the region. That is an inexcusable failure. It is one thing for the president and his top advisers to decide after careful review and consideration that no action is needed. It is another thing for nothing to be done because the president wasn’t informed or refused to read warnings of a potentially lethal threat to troops in the field.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Texas and its leaders failed the COVID-19 test

Thousands of Texans are falling ill, hundreds will suffer disabilities, and dozens will die because of a small group of people who were too selfish, vain or greedy to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. The irony, of course, is these super-spreaders of disease and disinformation also set back the economic recovery they promised to kickstart. Anti-government libertarians and anti-science conservatives made the most political noise in April and late May. They convinced our cowardly leaders in Austin to ignore the experts, overrule local authorities and reopen Texas businesses before the public health system was ready.

Sure, Gov. Greg Abbott initially promised to follow White House guidelines but threw them out. He didn’t wait until we had enough contract tracers or testing. When the infection rate doubled, he broke his promise and kept reopening more and more businesses. On May 29, I warned that June could be the most consequential month in our lifetimes, and sadly, I was right. The answer to whether Americans can be trusted to act responsibly in the face of a debilitating disease is, unfortunately, a bold case no. Remember when Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick called on senior Texans to risk their lives for the good of the economy? He wasn’t asking; apparently, he was telling. His push to reopen has put us all at higher risk after the state ordered hospitals to stop elective surgeries. The percentage of positive cases compared to the total number tested, known as the positivity rate, is skyrocketing, proving undoubtedly that the pandemic is worsening. Abbott said he would have to roll back the reopening of businesses if the rate exceeded 10 percent. He did not act until it was nearly 14 percent.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

HISD under state investigation again — this time for special education

Texas Education Agency officials are deep into a wide-ranging investigation of Houston ISD’s special education department, examining whether district staff violated numerous federal laws and state rules that help ensure students with disabilities get vital support while in school, the Houston Chronicle has learned. Records reviewed by the Chronicle show state investigators have spent the past 8 1/2 months reviewing whether the state’s largest school district failed to follow about 20 special education regulations, such as properly identifying students with disabilities, delivering legally entitled services, re-evaluating students’ needs and involving parents in key decisions.

The inquiry, known as a special accreditation investigation, is the same type of review launched by the TEA in early 2019 following allegations that some trustees had violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, interfered with district contracts and failed to follow their governance role. TEA officials substantiated those allegations and Education Commissioner Mike Morath moved in late 2019 to replace HISD’s governing board. However, the district’s elected trustees remain in power pending the outcome of a lawsuit they filed to stop their ouster. While state officials typically handle several individual special education complaints brought by HISD families each year, the current investigation dives into HISD’s district-wide performance and could produce far more serious consequences. If state investigators find evidence of systemic special education issues in HISD, Morath could appoint an official to oversee changes in the district or try again to replace the school board. TEA officials declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Odus Evbagharu: elease the tapes and the narcotics division audit, now. Houstonians deserve transparency from police

In the wake of the horrific death of former Third Ward resident George Floyd, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo shared some blunt and bold words with Houston. “So I’m going to tell you, we will march as a department with everybody in this community, I will march until I can’t stand no more but I will not allow anyone to tear down this city because this is our city.” It’s great to see the police chief angered, passionate and on fire when it comes to his opinions about what happened to Floyd in another city, but where are the same emotions and convictions when it comes to his very own department?

Acevedo for some time now has clamored for police to be more transparent and for “meaningful reform” to policing across the country. But Houstonians are demanding the same things from his department. In response we’ve received from him only words. Why can’t the people of Houston, whom Acevedo and his officers are to protect and serve, get transparency from his office? Houstonians have asked for him to publicly release the audit done on his narcotics division; he has yet to do so. Houstonians have asked the chief to release body camera footage from the recent killings of individuals at the hands of officers in his department; he has yet to do so. Some of the victim’s families have asked Acevedo not to release the body camera footage of their loved ones being killed. This is understandable. It’s hard to imagine the pain caused by visualizing over and over again how your loved one was killed. These families deserve to have their wishes granted. While in the same breath, Acevedo must release the other videos, show full transparency and give answers to these grieving families as to how and why it ended like this, and to the community as whole.

Houston Chronicle - July 2, 2020

Fort Hood soldier took own life after being linked to Vanessa Guillen disappearance, Army says

In the wake of Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillén’s disappearance, her family looked to her Army superiors for answers. During one of the family’s trips to the Killeen base to find the Houston native, Mayra Guillén said she spoke with her 20-year-old sister’s supervisor, who was identified Wednesday as having a role in the disappearance. He laughed at her and gave her a bad feeling, she recalled. “I met him — not knowing that he had something to do with it,” she said Wednesday. “I felt something was telling me that he did something and I wasn't wrong apparently.”

Military officials said he shot and killed himself along a Killeen road as law enforcement confronted him, hours after the discovery Tuesday of human remains believed to be those of the missing 3rd Cavalry Regiment soldier. Texas authorities had issued a be-on-the-lookout notice for him and Army officials said he fled his base post as investigators eyed him as a suspect in Guillén’s disappearance. “He still had the nerve — that same day — to laugh to my face and apparently now he kills himself,” the sister said of her encounter. “Why? I don’t know. Whoever is responsible has to pay.” The man’s death raises more questions for the family whose grief and rage over Fort Hood’s handling of Guillén’s April 22 disappearance has only intensified. The base has not been transparent in the investigation, the family contends. They also believe that her commanding officer sexually harassed Guillén, whose case sparked nationwide urgency from celebrities to find her and and outcry from other soldiers who say they, too, have been harassed and ignored.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Coronavirus concerns prompt city of Galveston to close beaches for July 4th weekend

The city of Galveston will close its beaches to the public for the July 4th holiday weekend amid a spike in new coronavirus cases — and will consider closing certain access points for the rest of the summer, city officials said. Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough said the order restricting beach access would be effective at 5 a.m. Friday. The order, which has not yet been signed, will close off all access points and beach parks, as well as restrict parking along Seawall Boulevard, which will be open only to pedestrians and exercise activity. The beach closure will end at midnight Monday.

Yarbrough said the decision to close beaches was influenced in part by a similar order issued by Nueces County on Tuesday to prohibit vehicular access to beaches over the holiday weekend. Yarbrough received permission from the Texas General Land Office, which governs the state beaches, to do so. “We got in touch with GLO and they’re supportive of whatever decisions we make, which has always been a concern, certainly over the last month,” Yarbrough said. “Bottom line is, we’re closing the beaches.” Beach crowds in Galveston have skyrocketed over the last two months since they were reopened to the public on May 1. Yarbrough said while the order restricts beach access just for the July 4th weekend, he planned to issue a separate order next week that would limit high-traffic access points on the island, such as at San Luis Pass and Diamond Beach.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Kate Murphy: Zero deaths in foster care is possible

In 2017, Gov. Greg Abbott said Texas should eliminate child deaths in the state’s foster care system. A heartbreaking new report by court-appointed monitors is a stark reminder that Texas is falling far short of that goal. When the state removes children from their families and places them in foster care, their lives are supposed to get better. After the state chooses a foster home for the child, he should be safe from abuse or neglect. He should have the support and stability to heal from trauma, succeed in school and thrive. And he should be able to count on state regulators keeping a close eye on the foster home. That’s not what happened to 3-year-old Amari. According to media coverage, after his family experienced homelessness, the state removed him from his mother and placed him in another home to keep him safe.

In March, the state received text messages with photographs from his child care provider and mother warning that Amari might not be safe in this home. But, according to the new court monitors’ report, the state regulators tasked with overseeing safety in foster homes bungled their response. On Easter, Amari died after he was found unconscious, bleeding from his ear. “He was the brightest spirit you ever met,” said his mother, Ariana. Amari isn’t the only bright spirit Texas has failed. The court monitors’ report told of two other recent child deaths in foster care that may have been preventable and noted other fatalities about which less information is available. And before this report, the evidence provided during the foster care lawsuit, the state’s ombudsman report and other reports showed the state was placing children in foster homes where they were often abused, sexually assaulted, subjected to physical restraints, missed by the state’s oversight efforts and even killed. The worst abuses often took place at residential treatment centers or group homes.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Coronavirus cases take big jump in Texas day care centers

Texas’ day care centers have reported a total of 950 coronavirus cases, marking an increase of 540 cases in less than two weeks. The latest count includes 643 staff members and 307 children at 668 licensed child care centers, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission reported Tuesday. Until recently, day care centers had remained relatively insulated. On May 21, Texas had reported only 67 coronavirus cases in licensed facilities, according to KVUE-TV in Austin.

The commission doesn’t track deaths, hospitalizations and recoveries linked to coronavirus in day cares, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. Child care centers remained open during the early stages of the pandemic for children of essential workers. On May 18, Gov. Greg Abbott allowed day cares to open for nonessential workers but with emergency regulations that included prescreening requirements and guidelines for entry and child pickup. The state repealed the emergency requirements June 12, but 11 days later Abbott directed the Health and Human Services Commission to reinstitute guidelines because of a spike in cases. The commission implemented similar emergency rules June 25 but didn’t include social distancing regulations or require masks for employees or children.

Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

Overwhelming demand for COVID-19 tests, long waits for results hamper Texas effort to control spread

Testing for the coronavirus in Texas is faltering, as soaring demand challenges laboratories’ ability to keep up. Test sites in major cities are filling up within hours. Some results are taking over a week, or as long as a month, to come back. A large drive-through testing site in West Texas closed after an overwhelmed lab said it could no longer process its samples. The crunch comes as Texas is facing its biggest surge of COVID-19 -- the extent of which can’t be truly known without rapid, widespread testing.

People who are waiting to find out whether they are sick -- or who can’t get tested at all -- are more likely to spread disease, said Dr. Ingrid Katz, an infectious disease specialist at the Harvard Global Health Institute. “We can’t wrap our arms around this if we have no idea what we’re wrapping our arms around,” Katz said. The strain on testing, however, shows no sign of letting up. Many states that were quick to reopen their economies -- including Texas, Florida and Arizona -- are seeing surges that are increasing the pressure on labs. A national association of commercial labs warned over the weekend that even with the ability to run hundreds of thousands of tests a day, the anticipated demand over the coming weeks “will likely exceed members’ testing capacities.” While waiting for test results, public health experts said people need to isolate like they would if they had the virus. In fact, with such rampant spread, and testing and contact tracing falling behind, masking and social distancing are vital even for a person who has recently tested negative.

Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

As COVID-19 cases rise among Latinos, Gov. Abbott agrees to interview on Univision after two months of requests

Unvision’s local Dallas affiliate KUVN-DT (Channel 23) has spent two months seeking an interview with Gov. Greg Abbott to address the Hispanic community about COVID-19. On Wednesday, after more pressure from Univision, Abbott’s office said it had scheduled an interview on the Spanish-language network this week.

Univision’s attempt to get Abbott on air started with an email request on April 30. Since then, the TV station and the governor’s press office have been playing email tag, but Abbott has yet to do an interview with KUVN. The governor has also not done interviews with Unvision’s affiliates in Austin, Houston or San Antonio, despite their requests. As COVID-19 cases surge across the Lone Star State, the virus is disportionately affecting people of color. In Dallas County alone, more than 60% of residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 are Hispanic. Dallas County is about 40% Hispanic. Of those households, about 42% speak English “less than very well,” according to U.S. Census data.

Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

Feds planning to ‘blitz’ test in Texas to find young adults silently spreading COVID-19

Federal officials are developing plans for a “blitz” of testing in Texas and other states to find young adults who have no symptoms and may be unknowingly spreading the coronavirus. The effort would target people under age 35 in “moderate sized” communities, which have not yet been named. “The strategy would be to surge test,” Admiral Brett Giroir, the Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said in a press call Wednesday. “You would do the number of tests you do in a month in just a few days, to try to make sure we identify these asymptomatics and get a better handle on them.”

The department is currently in discussions with state health officials in Texas, Florida and Louisiana, Giroir said. The announcement comes as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are surging in Texas to their highest levels since the epidemic began. On Tuesday the state reportedly nearly 7,000 positive cases, a new record. People under age 35 are driving up the case counts and many likely have mild symptoms or none at all, Giroir said. More than half the cases reported in Dallas County since June 1 have been diagnosed in young adults between the ages of 18 and 39, public health officials said. In an effort to slow the spread, Gov. Greg Abbott shut down bars last week and also reduced the capacity at restaurants to 50%. In mid-June, he scolded 20-year-olds for not wearing masks or following social distancing guidelines. While some cities and counties are now requiring masks inside businesses, Abbott has not mandated that everyone wear one in public. It is not clear when the testing surge would begin, who would be targeted or how officials would ensure compliance. The Texas Division of Emergency Management confirmed the state is working with federal officials to increase testing in Texas and said more details will be coming soon. Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dallas Morning News - July 1, 2020

Texas’ uncertain summer travel forecast: cheap gas, worries of bathroom break contagion

A uniquely uncertain summer road tripping season gets under way this Fourth of July weekend with enticing gas prices below $2 a gallon but new worries about a highly infectious virus turning bathroom breaks into risky adventures. Texans and their neighbors in Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas are expected to get out of their homes and take nearly 79 million trips over the next few months, according to AAA’s summer travel forecast. That’s down just 13% from last year, when air travel was far more robust. This summer, most travelers will hit the road rather than book a flight, train or cruise.

“Many Texans will get out and explore this summer though they’re taking a ‘wait and see approach’ when it comes to booking and are likely to book more long weekend getaways than extended vacations,” AAA Texas spokesman Daniel Armbruster said in a statement. Some 72% of people expecting to travel are planning an overnight vacation via car over the next five months, suggesting long-weekend trips will bounce back more quickly as Americans begin to venture out, according to a survey conducted for the American Hotel and Lodging Association. An uptick in travel bodes well for an economy reliant on gasoline sales and the travel industry — two sectors that have taken sizable hits since the start of the COVID-19 global pandemic. The gap in gasoline consumption between this year and 2019 will continue to narrow, said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis at IHS Markit’s OPIS. But the firm doesn’t expect this year’s demand to reach record levels seen last year. “Still, the continuing recovery at the pump is good news for a battered U.S. economy that needs a fill-up with some good news,” Kloza said.

Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

If Texas Republicans don’t cancel Houston convention, will Abbott do it for them?

Gov. Greg Abbott and state Republican leaders are on the horns of a dilemma. Having a big in-person Republican State Convention the week after next in Houston, the epicenter of a resurgent coronavirus pandemic, at a time when the governor in increasingly blunt and urgent terms is imploring Texans to hunker down, seems like a politically fraught idea. But for it not to happen would require either the State Republican Executive Committee or the governor to bite the bullet — and maybe take a political bullet from some grassroots activists who have questioned the severity of the crisis.

State Republican Party Chairman James Dickey has called a special, virtual meeting of the 64-member executive committee to vote on whether to change an expected 6,000-person event July 16-18 at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center into a virtual gathering. While the committee members tend to hew to a more conservative grassroots sentiment and live for the in-person interaction of the biennial state convention, they are actively polling delegates from their respective districts for guidance. “I strongly believe in-person is best,” said Mark Ramsey, an influential conservative member who represents Senate District 7. “My constituents seem to be 10-to-1 or more for in person.” Ramsey, who chaired the Platform Committee at the 2018 convention, is leading the Legislative Priorities Committee this year. “I am receiving a lot of feedback from delegates in and out of my Senate district, and it is very close,” said JT Edwards, who represents Senate District 11 and intends to be guided by that feedback. “It’s really close. You think it’s going one way and then it goes the other. You got all these X factors out of your control, which is frustrating,” Edwards said. “To be candid with you, there really is not a right answer to the COVID. We don’t know if the situation on the ground is going to change three minutes from now, 30 minutes from now or three hours from now. We simply don’t know.”

Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

ACL Fest cancels 2020 event in Austin due to coronavirus

After months of speculation amid an intensifying coronavirus pandemic, this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival has been canceled, concert promoter C3 Presents announced Wednesday. The festival was scheduled to take place over two weekends, Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-11, in Zilker Park.

“We would have loved to put on another memorable show this year, however, with the uncertainty surrounding the current situation in Texas, this decision is the only responsible solution. The health and safety of our fans, artists, partners, staff and the entire Austin community remains our highest priority,” festival organizers wrote in an announcement posted to social media and shared with the American-Statesman. This year’s festival would have been the 19th edition of the annual event, which began in 2002 and expanded to two weekends in 2013. ACL Fest typically has drawn crowds of about 75,000 people daily to the park each weekend. It has become a tour destination for such major musical headliners as Paul McCartney, Drake, Cardi B, Metallica and many more in recent years, as well as a crowd-drawing showcase for such breakout stars as Lizzo, Lorde and Billie Eilish. Organizers said in the announcement that they plan to return the festival to Zilker Park on Oct. 1-3 and 8-10, 2021. They went on to encourage fans who have already purchased tickets to “hold on to them to lock in access to next year’s festival at 2019 prices.”

San Antonio Express-News - July 1, 2020

‘A lot of unmet needs’ — S.A. event planner is passed over for contract extension after food banks say he failed to deliver on $39M federal contract to feed the needy

San Antonio event planner CRE8AD8, whose performance in delivering food boxes under a federal relief program sorely disappointed food banks, will not have its contract renewed. The announcement Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture delighted food bank officials, who had criticized the company for failing to fill their warehouses during a pandemic that triggered the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“The food industry is full of incredible partners and players that nourish Americans, and it is our privilege to work with them in their philanthropy and in these government programs,” said Eric Cooper, president and CEO of the San Antonio Food Bank. “But we have never dealt with a CRE8AD8. They were an anomaly in this program. They were the misfit in what it takes to feed people.” CRE8AD8 plans corporate events and weddings, according to its website. Food industry veterans were stunned when the company secured a $39 million USDA contract in May to participate in the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. The contract called for the firm — which had no experience in food distribution — to deliver 750,000 boxes packed with dairy, meat or produce to food banks and other nonprofits in Texas and six other states from May 15 through the end of June. As of Tuesday, CRE8AD8 (for “Create A Date”) had delivered to food banks a fraction of the expected number of boxes. Some received none. The USDA said last week it would grant extensions to “well-performing contractors,” and Wednesday, the department posted on its website a list of contractors approved for a second round of funding. CRE8AD8 was not among them.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 2, 2020

Are tougher COVID restrictions needed? Other cities think so, but not Fort Worth area

To curb record-breaking cases of the novel coronavirus, local officials in Texas’ largest metro areas have urged Gov. Greg Abbott to restore their ability to issue stay-at-home orders. But in Fort Worth and Tarrant County, the calls are much more subdued. While Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price signed a letter urging Abbott to allow local mask decrees, she hasn’t been involved with recent pleas for stay-at-home orders.

The mayor’s office this week said Price hasn’t considered a stay-at-home order since it is not within her powers. Asked if the city would re-evaluate the situation if Abbott allowed locals to issue those orders, a spokesperson said “we are not speculating on policy that doesn’t exist.” Meanwhile, officials from Texas’ largest metro areas have asked for greater local control, with Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins requesting a statewide mask mandate, a stay-at-home order for 30 days and the closure of all businesses and venues where wearing masks and staying six feet apart isn’t feasible. Since enacting what was essentially a statewide stay-at-home order in late March, Abbott’s subsequent executive orders have superseded local ones. When asked why he has resisted giving local officials more leeway amid the recent spike in cases, Abbott pointed to Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner who was jailed and fined for defying court orders. Texas’ top leaders came to her defense, with Abbott removing jail time as a punishment for violating his executive orders.

BuzzFeed - July 1, 2020

The coronavirus spread in at First Baptist Dallas. Then it hosted Mike Pence.

At least five members of the choir and orchestra at the Dallas megachurch visited by Vice President Mike Pence this weekend tested positive for the coronavirus in June, according to Facebook posts and internal church emails reviewed by BuzzFeed News. An additional orchestra member had symptoms several days after being exposed and was awaiting a test result in mid-June, according to a call for prayers sent to the church’s musicians. None of those six people were at the First Baptist church in Dallas during Pence’s hour-and-a-half-hour visit on Sunday, but it's unclear how many of the musicians who performed for Pence may have been exposed during previous practices and performances with those who were infected.

Public health experts have expressed particular concerns about the dangers of indoor singing and wind instruments in large groups, which can readily spread the respiratory virus. The choir and orchestra performed for Pence without masks, according to a video of the event reviewed by BuzzFeed News. One of the church’s music directors — who himself has been quarantined after testing positive for the virus — wrote an email informing the church’s musicians that choir members would not wear masks while singing. “Some of you may know but I’ve been in quarantine since June 14 after several exposures. I was tested and it came back positive for the virus,” a music director and the associate minister of worship, Jarrod Blackstock, wrote in a private Facebook group for the choir and orchestra on June 30. Blackstock also plays first trumpet in the orchestra.

Rivard Report - July 1, 2020

State Sen. José Menéndez, other elected officials call on Edgewood Trustee to resign

Two days after the board of Edgewood Independent School District censured a trustee and called on her to resign, three elected state officials issued their own calls for Dina Serrano to step down. State Sen. José Menéndez, State Rep. Ina Minjarez, and State Board of Education Member Marisa Perez-Diaz, a former Edgewood ISD employee, released statements this week calling for Serrano’s resignation after she posted a photo of her husband in a noose over Father’s Day weekend. References to hangings and nooses often carry racist connotations because of their connections to lynchings.

Serrano removed the post and apologized, but said after Monday’s board meeting that she would not resign. “My naivety in thinking this was an innocent, fun picture was interpreted as malicious, insensitive, and racist,” Serrano wrote on Twitter last week. “I get it, being a Latina woman from the barrio, I understand how hurtful my actions were. I am sorry.” In separate statements released Tuesday and Wedneday, the three elected officials admonished Serrano for her actions. Menéndez described the photo as disturbing, calling a noose a hateful and racist symbol. Minjarez expressed disappointment that Serrano’s actions had overshadowed the progress the school district has made in the last year. “Throughout its history, Edgewood ISD has never ceased its battle against racism and inequality in the public school system,” Minjarez said. “Dina Serrano’s actions have proven to be the antithesis of Edgewood ISD’s values, and will continue to tarnish its progress moving forward if gone unchecked.”

Daily Beast - July 1, 2020

The insane story behind Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s epic Ted Cruz takedown

It was easily one of the greatest moments in the two-decade history of Triumph the Insult Comic Dog. In the days leading up to the 2018 midterm elections, Stephen Colbert sent his old friend Robert Smigel down to Texas to report on the heated Senate race between Ted Cruz and Beto O’Rourke as his infamous puppet character. “We went to Texas with no expectation of talking to either candidate,” Smigel reveals on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast. “I thought I was just going to make fun of the supporters and make Ted Cruz jokes and that would be the end of it. I never thought in a million years that Ted Cruz would come up to me and be willing to speak.”

By this point, Smigel had ample experience trying to wrangle candidates on the campaign trail, dating back to his first political convention in 2004 when he teamed up with Michael Moore to crash Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News broadcast. In 2016, Triumph landed his own series of election specials on Hulu in which he brutally roasted candidates like Mike Huckabee and Chris Christie to their faces. Earlier this month, he ripped Anthony Scaramucci a new one on his “Quarantine Squares” game show. He knew that Cruz and his team were aware of Triumph because they had spent a good amount of time during the 2016 cycle chasing him around New Hampshire. “Ted Cruz is like a lightning rod,” Smigel says. “He’s one of the most hated people in the Senate. I think a lot of Republicans hate him too. But they deal with him.” Smigel was careful not to disrupt Cruz’s campaign events in 2016, but he says it was enough for his team to be “very upset” with him after a few days. “I would try to chase him with a question when he would run into the bus,” he says. “And it was working, it was really funny and we were getting gold.” Eventually, someone on his team got a call from the Cruz camp. “They want to know what it’s going to take for you to stop showing up at every event,” Smigel was told. An interview was on the table, but Smigel turned them down. “I said, you know what? I like the way this is working,” he says, laughing. “And so we just continued chasing him and amping it up.” So when Cruz heard Triumph calling his name in Texas two years later, he actually “lit up,” Smigel says. “Ted Cruz thinks he’s funny,” the comedian says of the biggest Simpsons fan in the Senate. “And apparently he thought that he could hold his own and all would be fine, you know? So he made a very big, grandiose gesture of welcoming Triumph.”

County Stories

Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

Voters who received mail-in ballots without runoff races now told to vote in person

Confusion over the mail-in ballot application has led some Travis County voters to receive a ballot without any runoff candidate options, and officials are now telling them they must vote in person. Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir did not have an estimate of how many voters have found themselves in this predicament, but “I know it’s enough that everybody’s talking about it,” she said. The Travis County clerk’s office has received a record-breaking number of requests for mail-in ballots for a runoff election as many seek safer ways to vote in the midst of the pandemic.

But for various reasons — such as voters selecting the wrong election ballot or not declaring a political party — many voters have received ballots in which only the Texas Senate District 14 race to replace Kirk Watson appears. DeBeauvoir said people have flooded her office with reports of ballots without any runoff candidate options. She said it’s indicative of how confusing the form to apply for a mail-in ballot can be, especially for people who are filling it out for the first time. “By-mail voting is not a voter-friendly system in Texas and never has been,” she said. “It’s very archaic. ... I don’t like that form at all.” The form requires voters to say which mail-in ballot they would like: “May Election;” “November Election;” or “other,” which is accompanied by a write-in box. The form also includes a box for “any resulting runoff.” Additionally, voters must declare a political party to receive a ballot for the runoff race. “If you didn’t tell us you wanted a specific Democratic or Republican ballot, that left the special election for Senate District 14,” DeBeauvoir said.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

Longhorns, Aggies to play in Houston but not each other

Both Texas and Texas A&M will participate in a midseason event at the Toyota Center in Houston this season. The Longhorns, Aggies, Louisiana Tech and Boise have accepted invitations to compete in The Battleground 2k20 doubleheader on Dec. 18 at the home of the Houston Rockets, event owners U-Sports announced Wednesday. A&M will face the Broncos in Game 1, leading into Game 2 between UT and the Bulldogs.

Boise State finished last season 20-12 and last to No. 5 San Diego State in the Mountain West tournament semifinals. In their first season under coach Buzz Williams, the Aggies finished 16-14 (10-8 SEC) and compiled a 6-2 record leading into the SEC tournament. This will be the first meeting between the two programs. "We are really excited to add another high-profile game to our schedule against a quality opponent," Boise State head coach Leon Rice said. "I have a ton of respect for Buzz Williams and what he has done throughout his career. It will be a great challenge and a great opportunity for us." Texas is 4-0 all-time against Louisiana Tech, its most recent win coming by 15 points on Dec. 16, 2017. UT finished last season 19-12 (9-9 Big 12) and will return all of its main rotation players while adding five-star power forward Greg Brown III.

Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

Donors raise over $3,000 in less than 24 hours to ‘Fix the Broken Spoke’

Following the news of an ATM theft at the Broken Spoke in Austin, more than a hundred donors have put together more than $3,000 to help out the owner of the iconic South Austin dance hall and bar. James White, who built the business in 1964, told the American-Statesman on Tuesday that the perpetrators of the ATM theft had caused thousands of dollars in damage when they rammed a pickup truck through the front of the bar. “It’s like a double kick in the head,” White said Tuesday.

After the bar shared the bad news on its official Facebook page, many of White’s friends showed their support by coming to the bar to help fix the damages caused during the heist. Ginny White-Peacock, White’s daughter, said she started the “Fix the Broken Spoke” GoFundMe campaign after people reached out to her on social media with the idea. “We are just so fortunate to have so many great people who want to help out. It’s a real community effort,” White-Peacock said in a statement. “The Broken Spoke has brought a lot of happiness and fond memories over the years to people and they just wanted to give back a little in our time or need.” White-Peacock said the campaign, which launched Tuesday, surpassed its $3,000 goal Wednesday morning. As of 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, the campaign had raised $3,770 from 111 donors. The money will cover construction costs, a new window and building materials, White-Peacock said.

KSAT - July 1, 2020

Arrest warrants issued for Floresville ISD board member accused of donkey theft

A board member of the Floresville Independent School District is wanted on multiple misdemeanor charges in Wilson County after investigators said she and two other people stole a donkey from a pasture west of Floresville. Alena Berlanga, 49, will face charges of theft $100-$750 and criminal trespassing after she turns herself in or is taken into custody.

A Wilson County Sheriff’s investigator told KSAT 12 Wednesday that two other suspects wanted in connection to the case, Nickol Sullivan and Pamela Johnson, were working on arrangements to turn themselves in. The investigator said Berlanga has yet to contact the agency about turning herself in. Berlanga and the two other suspects are accused of going onto a pasture in the 7000 block of FM 2579 on June 8 and taking a donkey they believed was delivering a foal. The pasture was secured by a fence and gate lock, the investigator said. The donkey was taken to a ranch in Wilson County but the foal did not survive the birth, the investigator said. The donkey was treated by a veterinarian and returned to the pasture, according to the investigator, who added that the three suspects did not have permission to go onto the property or to take the donkey.

Houston Chronicle - July 1, 2020

City Hall revokes credentials of Councilwoman Plummer’s brother over photos, protest

The city on Wednesday revoked the City Hall credentials of Councilmember Letitia Plummer’s brother for taking pictures of council members’ cars and sending them to an activist, who showed them on Facebook in a tirade against those members for failing to support Plummer’s police reform plan last month. Mayor Pro Tem David Martin said he informed Councilmember Plummer at 4 p.m. Thursday, shortly after the Chronicle published a story about the episode. Several council members had called for the Farouk Plummer’s credentials to be revoked.

Farouk Plummer, who served as an unpaid adviser in his sister’s council office, confirmed that he sent the photos to the activist in an “emotional decision” after the June 10 budget vote, and he said he does not regret doing so. He sent them, he said, to prove that Mayor Sylvester Turner and the council’s other five black members had met privately at City Hall on the weekend before the budget vote. Councilmember Plummer was invited to the meeting but did not attend. “Yes, there’s no denying that I did it,” Farouk Plummer said. “As a protective brother, I felt some type of way about this, I got to be honest with you. I felt like they were either trying to, A, sabotage her, or B, steal her amendments from her.” Gerry Monroe, the activist who received and displayed the photos online, since has attacked council members’ political positions and personal lives. He said one female council member “keeps a bunch of nuts in her mouth,” and that he was going to smack another member’s rear.

National Stories

The Atlantic - June 30, 2020

The Lincoln Project partakes of the spirit of a famous Republican president—but he’s not its namesake.

To take a full accounting of Donald Trump’s corrosive effect on our politics, you need to look at his enemies. After the president’s disappointing (for Trump fans) rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a political action committee calling itself the Lincoln Project jumped into the fray, as it tends to do, with both feet. It released not one but two video ads ridiculing the president. The first was about Trump’s claim at the rally that he asked his “people” to slow down the pace of coronavirus testing. Trump’s spokesperson later said the remark was “in jest,” and the president himself told an interviewer it was “semi–tongue in cheek.” But it is the job of the president’s opposition nowadays to pick and choose what to believe. The Lincoln Project chose to believe his first remark, drawing the implausible inference that the president actually wanted to slow testing, which would only inhibit the reopening of the economy, the one thing he doesn’t want to do. I think I’ve got that right.

“Shrinking” was in the spirit of another recent Lincoln Project product, called “Trump Is Not Well,” from earlier this month. That ad used footage from Trump’s speech to the graduating class at West Point. Over pictures of the president holding a glass of water with two hands, the voice-over suggested he was suffering from some kind of disability that rendered him unfit for high office, evidently based on the theory that our nation’s commander in chief must be able to sip water with one hand. The Lincoln Project’s ads—personally abusive, overwrought, pointlessly salacious, and trip-wired with non sequiturs—are familiar: They are undertaken with all the relish the president shows when he jokes about the mental hiccups of “Sleepy” Joe Biden, just as four years ago, he happily implied that Hillary Clinton suffered from some nameless disease. One reason Trump does this is to annoy his opponents; now his opponents’ supporters are returning the favor. The ads’ intended audience may be a surprise. In December, the PAC’s organizers published a manifesto in The New York Times, to mark their group’s launch. The headline read: “We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated.”

New York Times - July 1, 2020

Jennifer B. Nuzzo and Joshua M. Sharfstein: America has its priorities all wrong

The way states lifted social distancing restrictions imposed to fight the coronavirus sadly demonstrates our priorities. Officials let bars, restaurants and gyms open, despite warnings from public health experts that these environments pose the greatest risk for spreading the disease. Yet political leaders seem to have paid scant attention to safely reopening schools. The consequences of those backward priorities — Covid-19 rampaging through states that reopened quickly — make it even more vital that we extensively prepare to reopen classrooms as safely as possible this fall.

Research suggests that the sudden switch to online instruction has cost some students a full year of academic progress. This harm disproportionately affects children in homes without computers and stable internet connections, deepening educational inequality and widening racial and economic divides. The disruption of learning can have lifetime effects on students’ income and health. The school shutdowns left millions of children without access to meal programs and school-based health services. Reports of child abuse slowed since school employees couldn’t identify and notify the authorities about children they thought were being harmed. And the need for parents to supervise their children on school days or arrange child care has disrupted the economy and made it even harder for many families to get by. Would returning children to school be dangerous for them? The American Academy of Pediatrics has concluded that the harm to children from not having in-person education outweighs the risk. Children are 24 percent of the American population but account for only 2 percent of Covid-19 cases. In the United States, school-age children have been hospitalized at a rate of 0.1 per 100,000, compared with 7.4 per 100,000 for adults ages 50 to 64. Very few deaths among children have been reported.

The Hill - July 2, 2020

Experts fear July 4 weekend will exacerbate coronavirus spread

Experts worry that the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. will worsen after the Fourth of July weekend, when millions of people gather across the country during one of the busiest travel periods of the year. Memorial Day weekend — when people flocked to beaches, pools, parties, restaurants and bars after a weeks-long lockdown — helped spur many of the outbreaks the U.S. is seeing across parts of the country. But now the stakes are even higher.

The U.S. is reporting record-high daily case counts, driven largely by outbreaks in the south and west. Several states are experiencing more severe outbreaks than they saw two months ago. “I am very concerned, especially given this coming weekend, that the same types of spikes, the same types of surges could be seen not just in the places that are currently experiencing surges, but in places that have already experienced surges, and in ones that haven't yet,” said Joshua Barocas, assistant professor of medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. The U.S. is averaging 40,000 new cases a day, exceeding the numbers seen in May. This is partially because of increased testing, but the percentage of tests coming back positive is also going up, an indicator of a growing outbreak. While more than 50 percent of new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. are recorded in four states: Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, dozens of other states are also seeing increases both in cases and the percentage of tests coming back positive.

Associated Press - July 2, 2020

New York appeals court clears the way for a publisher to distribute tell-all book by President Trump’s niece

A New York appeals court cleared the way Wednesday for a publisher to distribute a tell-all book by President Donald Trump’s niece over the objections of the president’s brother. The New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division said it was lifting a restraint that a judge put on Simon & Schuster a day earlier that would have blocked distribution of “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man.” Although the book was scheduled to be published on July 28, Simon & Schuster said thousands of copies of the 75,000-copy first run of the book had already been sent to bookstores and others.

The appeals ruling, though, left in place restraints against Mary Trump, the book’s author and the president’s niece, after the president’s brother said in court papers that she was part of an agreement among family members not to write about their relationships without permission. The president’s brother, Robert Trump, had sued Mary Trump to block publication. An email seeking comment was sent to Robert Trump’s lawyer Wednesday. The appeals ruling restrained Mary Trump and any agent of hers from distributing the book, but the court made clear it did not consider the publisher to be an agent, though that issue could be decided in further proceedings at the lower court.

CBS News - July 2, 2020

Trump, apparently relenting a bit on wearing masks, says they make him look like the Lone Ranger

After long resisting wearing a mask in public, President Trump said Wednesday he thinks it makes him look like the Lone Ranger - and he likes it. "I'm all for masks. I think masks are good," Mr. Trump told Fox Business in an interview. "People have seen me wearing one." Mr. Trump's comments came a day after Republican lawmakers suggested that he wear a mask in public to set a good example for Americans trying to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"If I were in a tight situation with people, I would absolutely," Mr. Trump said in the interview. Mr. Trump has long resisted being photographed in a mask. In early April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people wear cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures were difficult to maintain. Mr. Trump immediately undercut the CDC guidance by flatly stating that he wouldn't be following it, suggesting it would be unseemly for the commander in chief to wear a mask as he meets with heads of state. On Wednesday, he sounded a different tone, saying, "I had a mask on. I sort of liked the way I looked. OK. I thought it was OK. It was a dark black mask, and I thought it looked OK.

SCOTUSBlog - June 30, 2020

Jane Schacter: June Medical and the many faces of judicial discretion

(Jane Schacter is the William Nelson Cromwell professor of law at Stanford Law School. She signed an amicus brief in support of the petitioners in June Medical Services v. Russo.) The headline from the 5-4 decision in June Medical Services v. Russo striking down Louisiana’s abortion restriction is unquestionably the vote of Chief Justice John Roberts. He determined the outcome. While he may have previewed his position a year ago when he voted to stay the ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit that upheld the law, he had never before voted to strike down a restriction on abortion, so Monday’s outcome was hardly inevitable. The chief justice’s vote is significant both for this case and for the idea of stability in constitutional law. The decision is consequential and, by my lights, a welcome intervention in the arena of abortion. Much less clear is what it might portend for future legal developments in this area.

In this commentary, I would like to focus on the stated rationale in the chief’s concurrence and explore what it might mean, going forward, for the constitutionally protected right to choose. My conclusions are two: First, although Roberts frames his opinion in terms of stare decisis and judicial restraint, there are many reasons for skepticism about the prospects for such restraint in the realm of abortion rights. Second, supporters of abortion rights won a significant victory in June Medical, but the Roberts concurrence by no means closes the doors to significant future restrictions on access to abortion. The Louisiana admitting privileges requirement struck down in June Medical was basically a carbon copy of the requirement imposed by Texas and struck down in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016. Justice Stephen Breyer’s majority opinion in Whole Woman’s Health held that the Texas law constituted an “undue burden” on access to abortion in violation of Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The similarity of the Louisiana and Texas laws led Roberts to place central emphasis on stare decisis in his June Medical concurrence. In doing so, he emphatically associated stare decisis with judicial restraint. He quoted the Federalist Papers for the idea that “[a]dherence to precedent is necessary to ‘avoid an arbitrary discretion in the courts,’” and Justice Robert Jackson for the idea that such adherence “distinguishes the judicial ‘method and philosophy from those of the political and legislative process.’” This emphasis on judicial modesty is a familiar rhetorical signature for Roberts.

Newsweek - June 30, 2020

Parler, the Ted Cruz-approved 'free speech' app, is already banning users

Parler, the social media platform that boasts about being a haven for "free speech," has apparently started to ban accounts and remove content. Over the past few days, several Twitter users have tweeted that they've been kicked off of Parler. Judging from the posts announcing that they've been booted, at least some of the banned Parler users seem to have signed up for the service precisely to test the limits of the app's so-called "freedom of speech" policy. "Pretty much all of my leftist friends joined Parler to screw with MAGA folks, and every last one of them was banned in less than 24 hours because conservatives truly love free speech," one user recently wrote on Twitter.

Launched in 2018, Parler presents itself as "an unbiased" social media platform, and is generally understood to be a conservative alternative to Twitter. Texas Senator Ted Cruz is a booster of the service, which is also used by President Donald Trump, his son Eric Trump, Rudy Giuliani and Candace Owens. Conservatives have been flocking to the social media platform, especially after President Trump had tweets about mail-in ballots flagged and fact-checked as "potentially misleading," back in May. Trump alleged that mail-in voting in California would lead to electoral fraud—a claim that was deemed false by Twitter. Parler's CEO, John Matze, hasn't been shy about promoting Parler's supposed lack of censorship. In a June 25 interview with CNBC, Matze, said that the app is "a community town square, an open town square, with no censorship." He added, "If you can say it on the street of New York, you can say it on Parler."

July 1, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 30, 2020

Texas breaks previous daily record with nearly 7,000 new coronavirus cases

State health officials reported nearly 7,000 new cases of COVID-19 and more than 6,000 hospitalizations Tuesday, unprecedented figures that came as Gov. Greg Abbott suspended elective surgeries at hospitals in four South Texas counties. The Texas Department of State Health Services reported 6,975 new coronavirus cases Tuesday, up from Thursday’s record of 5,996 cases. Texas hospitals had 6,533 new lab-confirmed COVID-19 patients, up from Monday’s record of 5,913.

State health officials also reported 21 new coronavirus-related fatalities Tuesday, bringing the death toll of the virus in the state to 2,424. State and local officials are racing to rein in those numbers. Abbott shifted his tone last week after weeks of gradually reopening sectors of the economy. He warned of a “massive outbreak” last week, days before closing Texas bars and reducing restaurant dining room capacity. In a series of local TV interviews Tuesday evening, Abbott said he couldn’t predict when the state could reverse its latest restrictions. “We hope to open them up as soon as possible,” Abbott said. “Right now, it’s hard to predict,” he said, because new cases and hospitalizations are increasing at a rapid pace each day. The statewide record numbers were announced hours after Abbott halted elective surgeries in Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces and Webb counties — home counties to Brownsville, McAllen, Corpus Christi and Laredo — as coronavirus hospitalizations and cases in those areas rise.

Austin American-Statesman - July 1, 2020

Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance sues Abbott over new coronavirus restrictions

The Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance is suing Gov. Greg Abbott in response to his renewed restrictions on bars and restaurants amid an increase in COVID-19 infections. The organization’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, comes on the footsteps of a separate Travis County District Court case in which about two dozen bar owners and private citizens challenged the constitutionality of Abbott’s recent executive order.

“Today TBNA, along with Plaintiffs from around the State of Texas, filed a lawsuit in Federal Court in Austin in order to protect the constitutional rights of our members. We will continue to stand against the unjust and irrational closing of only certain businesses that have obtained an alcohol license,” the organization said in a letter addressed to its members. The group of 17 plaintiffs from cities across Texas — including Austin, Humble, Allen, Brownsville and Fredericksburg — said Abbott’s executive order was unconstitutional and that they would ask the court to prevent the governor from enforcing parts of his June 26 executive order related to bars and restaurants. According to Abbott’s order, restaurants in Texas are allowed to stay open until midnight at 75% capacity if less than 51% of their revenue comes from alcohol sales. Abbott’s order also people from visiting “bars or similar establishments that hold a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission,” though it allows for drive-thru, pickup or delivery options that are allowed under Texas law.

Associated Press - July 1, 2020

Republicans, with exception of Trump, now push mask-wearing

In Republican circles -- with the notable exception of the man who leads the party -- the debate about masks is over: It’s time to put one on. As a surge of infections hammers the South and West, GOP officials are pushing back against the notion that masks are about politics, as President Donald Trump suggests, and telling Americans they can help save lives. Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, on Tuesday bluntly called on Trump to start wearing a mask, at least some of the time, to set a good example.

“Unfortunately, this simple, lifesaving practice has become part of a political debate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do,” Alexander said. It’s a rare break for Republicans from Trump, who earlier this month told the Wall Street Journal that some people wear masks simply to show that they disapprove of him. And the Republican nudges for the public -- and the president -- to embrace mask-wearing are coming from all corners of Trump’s party and even from friendly conservative media. Both Vice President Mike Pence and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in recent days have urged Americans to wear one when they are unable to maintain social distance. Sen. Mitt Romney, a Utah Republican, told reporters it would be “very helpful” for Trump to encourage mask usage. “Put on a mask -- it’s not complicated,” McConnell, R-Ky., urged Americans during his weekly news conference Tuesday.

Washington Post - July 1, 2020

Workers getting laid off for second time as virus's surge closes businesses

Millions of American workers are suffering from economic whiplash, thinking they were finally returning to work only to be sent home again because of the coronavirus's latest surge. Stores, restaurants, gyms and other businesses that reopened weeks ago are shuttering again, and this time Congress appears less inclined to provide additional aid. Other businesses that had banked on customers returning and restrictions lifting - such as hotel chains, construction firms and movie theaters - are seeing hours cut and reopening dates pushed back indefinitely as consumer demand stalls.

And many governors, including some who had drawn scrutiny for initially playing down the virus's risks, are issuing new safety restrictions, in some cases just weeks after the first round of guidelines had begun to lift. In recent weeks, three states - California, Florida and Texas - have implemented policies that partly restrict restaurant or bar service. Nine others - Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Louisiana, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico and North Carolina - have postponed or slowed reopening plans. Thousands of workers are caught in these rapidly shifting seas, many of them hourly and low-wage service employees, and are now facing unemployment for a second time. They say the past few months have been jarring: navigating unemployment in March, preparing to go back to work in April or May, and now confronting the prospect of what could be another long stretch without a paycheck. This time, many say they're on even shakier financial ground as they topple into yet another period without a job. They face what experts have begun calling a "fiscal cliff": the July end date for the $600 in weekly supplemental aid that has helped keep so many families afloat.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Dallas County reports record 20 deaths from coronavirus, 601 new cases; Tarrant County adds 605 cases

Dallas County reported a record 20 deaths and 601 additional coronavirus cases Tuesday. It was the fifth consecutive day the cases set a new one-day high, and officials expect that trend to continue. “What you’re seeing in the numbers today represents the disease five to 14 days ago,” County Judge Clay Jenkins said. “Changes we’ll make today will manifest in two weeks.” The latest victims included 14 Dallas residents: a man in his 30s, two men in their 40s, a man and a woman in their 60s, three men and a woman in their 70s, a man and two women in their 80s and two women in their 90s who lived at long-term care facilities.

The other victims were a Balch Springs man in his 50s, a Garland woman in her 60s who lived at a long term care facility, a Garland woman in her 70s, an Irving man in his 40s, a Richardson man in his 30s and a Seagoville man in his 50s who was a resident of a long-term care facility. Tuesday’s numbers raise the county’s totals to 21,338 confirmed cases — 8.1 for every thousand residents — and 373 deaths. The county does not report a number of recoveries. The previous one-day record for cases, set Monday, was 572, and the previous high of 16 deaths was announced June 2. Hospitalizations for COVID-19 also reached another all-time high in the county, with 619 patients hospitalized Monday — more than double the number who were in hospitals a month earlier. The county also reported that 34% of emergency-room visits Monday — 634 — were for symptoms of the virus.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Top US health officials criticize American Airlines for plans to fill planes to capacity

The government’s top experts in infectious diseases on Tuesday criticized American Airlines’ decision to pack flights full while the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow across much of the United States. “We don’t think it’s the right message,” said Robert Redfield, director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. His comment came during a Senate committee hearing and in response to a question by Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont.

Redfield, who was testifying with other national health experts, said there was “substantial disappointment” with American’s plan to remove caps July 1 on how many seats it sells. American said last week it would no longer hold open middle seats to give passengers more room to social distance. “A number of airlines had decided to keep the middle seat thing,” he told the Senate panel. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease expert at the National Institutes of Health, also questioned what went into American’s decision last week. “I think in the confines of an airplane that becomes even more problematic,” he said. Airlines started voluntarily reducing capacity in April and May. But with more than 600,000 passengers flying on several days in the last week, planes are becoming more crowded.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Texas unemployment agency postpones return of work search requirement as COVID-19 cases spike

The Texas Workforce Commission has postponed the return of the work search requirement for unemployment benefits for another month as COVID-19 cases across the state spike and some businesses across the state are forced to close. The announcement, which came at the commission’s weekly meeting, is a major reversal from two weeks ago when the commission said it would reinstate the work search requirement beginning in July. That decision was heavily criticized by worker advocates who said it was unfair to ask job seekers to prove job searches when so many businesses remained closed or under financial pressures. At the commission meeting, executive director Ed Serna said the agency was putting a pause on the requirement’s return.

Serna mentioned the major spike in new coronavirus cases in the state last week and Gov. Greg Abbott’s Friday decision to shutter bars and tubing businesses and reducing the capacity of restaurants to no more than 50%. “Due to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Texas, TWC has decided to pause the return of work search requirements at this time,” Serna said in a statement. “We will continue to monitor the situation and make further recommendations in late July.” Jonathan Lewis, a senior policy analyst with the think tank Every Texan, which had warned against reinstating the requirement, said the commission’s reversal was in the best interest of Texans. “It’s great to see the agency reverse this policy decision that would have put undue burdens on Texans at a time when so many businesses are still closed and many have re-closed,” Lewis said in a statement. “Going forward, the commission should stop focusing on how to make it harder for struggling Texans to get benefits, and instead shift its focus to supporting workers so people can get back to work safely.”

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2020

Trump rejects intel on Russian bounties, but top Texas Republicans say retaliation may be called for

Two senior Texas Republicans emerged Monday from a classified briefing on whether Russia put a bounty on U.S. troops in Afghanistan taking the claims seriously –in stark contrast to President Donald Trump’s stance that the intelligence lacks credibility. One said retaliation may be called for. Another said that if U.S. spy agencies failed to tell the president about the allegations months ago, as Trump asserts, someone should be fired. “The Putin regime cannot be trusted. If the intelligence review process verifies the reports, we strongly encourage the administration to take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable,” said Austin Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“After today’s briefing with senior White House officials, we remain concerned about Russian activity in Afghanistan, including reports that they have targeted U.S. forces. It has been clear for some time that Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan. We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces,” said West Texas Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, in a statement issued with Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, the third-ranking GOP House leader. Those hawkish pronouncements were at odds with Trump’s public posture. He insisted he didn’t believe that Russia offered bounties, even as aides said he still hadn’t been briefed on the intelligence – a contradiction the White House struggled to explain. The New York Times reported on Friday that U.S. intelligence agencies believed that Russia had secretly offered to pay Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops, that Trump had been briefed about the intelligence, and that the National Security Council discussed the allegation in late March. Other major news outlets have confirmed the report.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Arlington congressman Ron Wright’s Democratic opponent blasts him for old columns

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright’s Democratic opponent is highlighting several controversial opinion columns he wrote for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in the 1990s. In the op-eds, the Arlington Republican advocates for public executions, criticizes “Black English,” known as Ebonics, and requests federal protection for white males. Stephen Daniel, a Waxahachie lawyer running for Congress as a Democrat in Texas’ 6th Congressional District, is calling attention to the columns in three Facebook advertisements set to run over the next four weeks, according to his campaign. The ads pull short quotes from the articles and display them on a red background next to a photo of the first-term congressman.

Daniel’s campaign harshly criticized Wright for the pieces. “Ron Wright’s extreme views don’t belong in Congress, and that’s why our campaign is holding him accountable with these new ads,” campaign manager James Sonneman said in a statement. “Whether he’s spreading divisive views on race or pledging to take away Texans’ health care, Ron Wright is wrong for Texans.” While working for Ceramic Cooling Tower Inc. before running for the Arlington City Council in 1999, Wright penned the articles while growing his stature as a conservative voice in North Texas. His campaign stood by the columns, saying Daniel’s ads took his comments out of context. “While Democrats focus on exploiting comments taken out of context from nearly 20 years ago, voters can sleep soundly knowing Congressman Ron Wright is focused on the critical issues facing Texans in the midst of a global health pandemic,” Matt Langston, a spokesman for Wright’s campaign, said in a statement.

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

‘Shredded cheese’ incident at Allen Mi Cocina goes viral after diner posts about it on Twitter

After an Allen resident posted about his wife’s long wait for cheese for her fajitas, he wasn’t prepared for the response from Twitter users. They shredded him. On Saturday night, Jason Vicknair tweeted about what he perceived as poor service from the Allen location of Mi Cocina. He said he was venting his frustrations on social media by posting a picture of his wife — who was unaware of the picture and the tweet — with complaints that she didn’t receive the shredded cheese she requested multiple times for her fajitas.

“My wife, date night after 3+ months locked up on quarantine,” Vicknair wrote. “Waiting for shredded cheese as it’s the only way she can eat fajitas. We’ve asked 4 people, going on 18 minutes now. Just unreal at Allen, TX location. We gotta quit blaming #COVID19 for crappy service.” He said in a message on Twitter that his “dumb mistake” quickly backfired, resulting in hundreds of hate-filled messages and several death threats toward him and his wife, 13-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter. Vicknair has deleted the tweet, but for the next two days, Twitter users continued to reply to his tweets with criticism — many describing him and his wife as “entitled” and “white privileged.” He later made his account private.

Houston Chronicle - June 30, 2020

Remains found near Fort Hood unlikely to be missing soldier Vanessa Guillen’s, search leader says

Remains discovered Saturday near Fort Hood are not believed to be those of Houston soldier Vanessa Guillen, the director of the search and rescue group Texas EquuSearch said Tuesday. “We don’t think this has to do with Vanessa,” said Tim Miller, founder and director of organization whose volunteers have been looking for the 20-year-old soldier last seen on April 22.

Miller said he believes the remains, found in Killeen, where the Army base is located, are more of those belonging to another Fort Hood soldier who had been reported missing, Gregory Wedel-Morales. Volunteers discovered his skeletal remains on June 19 at an empty lot that is a four-minute walk from Saturday’s discovery. Volunteers likely found “parts of his remains that were carried by animals,” Miller said. The discovery on Saturday had raised speculation about a potential connection to Guillen. The Killeen Police Department said the Southwestern Institute of Forensic Sciences in Dallas will identify the remains to determine they are human or animal.

Houston Chronicle - June 27, 2020

Erica Grieder: Houston restaurateurs make tough call to protect customers from COVID-19

This week, Sheree and Roy Marquez, the owners of Alma’s Latina, made a difficult decision. The Houston area, which had weathered the early months of the coronavirus pandemic relatively well, had begun emerging as a nationwide hot spot for COVID-19. And although the staff at Alma’s had been vigilant about wearing masks, social distancing and sanitizing, the Marquez family felt they could do more to prevent the virus’ spread. So Texas is open for business. But their dining room is not. On Thursday, Alma’s announced that it is returning to curbside and delivery only, for the time being.

“This temporary move is our effort to be part of the solution and not the problem,” the couple explained in a Facebook post. “We believe it is our responsibility to protect our staff, our community and give our hospitals a fighting chance.” “Our concern was exactly what’s happening now — that we weren’t ready as a state to open up,” Sheree Marquez said Thursday evening. She pointed to the array of indicators that public health professionals have been tracking: positive cases, hospitalizations, ICU capacity and deaths. “It is a sacrifice for us as a business. Sales will drop,” she continued. “But we know that ultimately the sacrifice we’re making right now should be something that will help sustain us for the long haul, because this is not going away anytime soon.” Apparently not. All of the indicators Marquez mentioned have taken an ominous turn since Gov. Greg Abbott began formally reopening the state two months ago. We are, according to medical experts, approaching a bleak tipping point. And whether we can avoid the worst-case scenario — well, that’s up to us.

Houston Chronicle - June 30, 2020

Harris County extends mandatory mask order through end of August

Harris County’s mandatory mask order will remain in effect through the end of the summer, Commissioners Court decided Tuesday. The court extended until Aug. 26 the county’s disaster declaration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing County Judge Lina Hidalgo to extend the mask rules until that date as well. The mask order, which Hidalgo issued June 19, mandates that businesses require patrons to cover their faces. The vote to the extend the declaration was 3-2, with the two Republican commissioners, Steve Radack and Jack Cagle, voting no.

The item, which has been extended for weeks at a time since Hidalgo first issued it in March, was set to be lengthened until July 15. Commissioner Adrian Garcia proposed extending the declaration and mask rules through the rest of the summer, citing the severity of the pandemic. His Democratic colleagues, Hidalgo and Commissioner Rodney Ellis, agreed. Wearing masks and practicing social distancing are key to slowing the virus’ spread, health experts say. The rules apply to customers ages 10 and over. Businesses that do not comply can be punished by a $1,000 fine, though Hidalgo directed law enforcement to focus on education rather than issuing citations.

Houston Chronicle - June 30, 2020

Texas lawmakers say HPD internal audit should be made public

Two state lawmakers who reviewed a copy of the Houston Police Department’s audit of its narcotics division are calling on Chief Art Acevedo to release the document to the public. “The reality is, there’s nothing in this the public should not be aware of,” Texas Sen. Paul Bettancourt said. “The real question is, what are they going to do about it?” The police department performed the audit after last year’s disastrous Harding Street raid. Two homeowners died in the raid, and investigators later accused former officer Gerald Goines of lying to obtain the warrant on which he based the raid. He is now charged with murder.

In the wake of the incident, the police department launched an internal criminal probe, along with an administrative audit of the Narcotics Division. In February, after questions from the Chronicle, Rep. Gene Wu, D-Houston, and a coalition of other Houston-area state representatives called on Acevedo to make the document public. The chief balked, saying he did not want to endanger the county’s criminal case against Goines and said the document included the names of undercover officers and could reveal information about confidential informants. Less than a month later Bettancourt asked for a copy of the audit, using “legislative prerogative,” which allows lawmakers to bypass the state’s public records laws.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2020

Tubing outfitters now selling parking, private river entry in response to Gov. Abbott's order

Tubing is still happening on the Guadalupe and Comal Rivers despite state orders issued Friday closing outfitters in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Though public access points to both rivers are closed, outfitters like Rockin' R, Shanty Tubes, Tube Haus and The Lone Star Float House are providing entry and parking for floaters who bring their own tubes. Some are also offering amenities, like air pumps, or are selling tubes.

Comal County officials directed questions on interpretations of the order to the governor's office. According to the order, violations can result in a fine of up to $1,000. The improvised business model the outfitters are using does not include the usual transportation services, leaving tubers to shuttle themselves or walk. Tube Haus is one of the outfitters selling parking and air for customers to fill their own tubes. "It does not state that personal equipment is ban (sic), so we are offering parking and air for personal equipment," the Tube Haus posted on the company's Facebook page hours after Abbott's order was signed. Prices were not listed for Shanty Tubes or Rockin' R, but the Tube Haus is charging $30 for parking per car and $5 to inflate a single tube or $10 for a double-seater.

Houston Chronicle - June 30, 2020

Gulf Greyhound Park, one of the largest dog racing tracks in the state, closes down after 29 years

Gulf Greyhound Park is permanently closing down after nearly 30 years in business. Gulf is one of the largest and last remaining dog racing tracks in the state, according to the Texas Racing Commission. The state agency regulates horse and greyhound racing through licensing, on-site monitoring and enforcement.

The simulcast and event center opened in La Marque in 1992 to much fanfare, generating more than $200 million in its first full year of business. Gulf halted live racing in 2015 but resumed live and simulcast racing with adjusted, shorter seasons in 2017. General manager Sally Briggs said in a press release sent out by the city of La Marque that the park is closing down due to a "decline in parimutuel live racing and simulcast wagering over the past few years." Animal rights advocates have called out the park in the past for questionably high numbers of dog injuries and deaths they allege are related to poor upkeep of the track. "It's always been a hot injury rate track," David Peck, president of the Texas Greyhound Association previously told Chron.com. "Gulf has a higher rate of major severe, needing-surgery type dogs." According to a post on the park website, uncashed tickets and vouchers can be sent to: P.O. Box 488, La Marque, Texas, 77568.

Bloomberg - June 30, 2020

Texas’ pause in elective surgeries poses risk to Tenet, Medical City parent HCA

The suspension of elective surgeries in parts of Texas rekindles risks for hospitals and medical device makers that were only just beginning to recover from a months-long shutdown across the country. Gov. Greg Abbott’s halting of non-urgent procedures in four of the state’s largest counties — Dallas, Harris, Bexar and Travis — represents a reaction that could be mimicked in other states that are struggling to control the spread of the coronavirus, according to analysts at Bernstein.

“We believe the political equation will make other states following this lead more likely,” Bernstein analysts led by Lance Wilkes and Lee Hambright wrote in a June 26 report. “Halting of elective procedures instituted by the Republican governor of Texas would certainly make it easier for other Republican governors to institute lockdowns of procedures.” On Tuesday, Abbott added four more counties to the restriction: Cameron, Hidalgo, Nueces and Webb. In Texas, HCA Healthcare Inc. and Farmers Branch-based Tenet Healthcare Corp. are most at risk because the state accounts for more than a fifth of their total hospital beds, according to data compiled by Jefferies analyst Brian Tanquilut. HCA is the parent company of the Medical City hospitals in North Texas, and Tenet operates dozens of surgery centers in the region.

San Antonio Express-News - June 30, 2020

Judges in Laredo jailing witnesses in ‘mechanical scheme’

Federal judges in Laredo have an unconstitutional blanket policy of jailing witnesses in smuggling cases, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas. Federal law allows the government to detain witnesses of crimes to ensure they appear in court to testify. But the ACLU alleges in its lawsuit, filed in a Laredo federal court, that judges in the border city have ordered hundreds of witnesses detained this year on excessive bonds without their attorneys present.

The witnesses, who are almost all undocumented immigrants expected to testify against human smugglers, are sometimes held for months until their cases are resolved. The law says that detaining witnesses should be a last resort, but there are currently more than 130 material witnesses held in the Laredo area. None have been charged with a crime. “Deprivation of liberty is one of the most severe things you can do to a person,” said David Donatti, an attorney with the ACLU of Texas. “It should only happen very, very rarely.” Judges are required to make individual determinations about whether it’s necessary to detain witnesses. That’s not happening in Laredo, the ACLU says in its lawsuit, filed on behalf of six detained witnesses. Instead, court documents filed this month describe a system in which anytime someone is arrested smuggling immigrants, federal agents randomly select some of them as witnesses. Judges then order witnesses detained on $25,000 bonds in, according to the lawsuit, “a mechanical scheme that ignores their individual circumstances.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 30, 2020

Tarrant County reports record 605 COVID cases, 3 deaths, hospitalizations hit new high

Tarrant County reported a single-day high 605 new coronavirus cases and three more deaths on Tuesday. The latest deaths were Arlington residents, including two women in their 50s and a man in his 70s. Each had underlying health conditions, according to officials.

Tarrant County has confirmed a total of 12,344 COVID-19 cases, including 228 deaths and at least 5,220 recoveries. The previous daily record was 521 cases a week ago. County data for lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases shows 585 patients were hospitalized, including 111 in ICU, as of Monday. That’s an all-time high during the pandemic. The previous high was 517 on Friday, when there were 112 COVID-19 patients in ICU. The seven-day moving average for coronavirus hospitalizations was 380 on Monday. It has increased every day since it was 177 on June 7. COVID-19 patients were using 8% of hospital beds in the county as of Monday.

SE Texas Record - June 24, 2020

Texas AG joins letter to Senate, House leaders urging an end to ‘anti-police rhetoric’

Attorney General Ken Paxton has?joined a letter to leaders in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, requesting assistance in “tempering the anti-police rhetoric that is jeopardizing the safety of our officers.” “We especially rely on you, as the leaders of the most important legislative body in the world, to discourage dangerous disinformation and to help us restore the country’s faith in the overwhelming majority of law-enforcement officers who perform their jobs honorably and bring stability to our cities and states,” the letter states.

The attorneys general write that although the “tragic and preventable” death of George Floyd shined a spotlight on “bad actors” in law enforcement, the data doesn’t support claims that law enforcement is “systemically racist.” “The vast majority of law enforcement officers across our country act prudently, professionally and heroically,” Paxton said in a statement. “However, when our nation’s leaders fail to fight back against disinformation or even spread it themselves, peace officer’s lives are endangered.” The attorneys general contend that it is possible to support law enforcement and also speak out against those who dishonor the badge.

Marketplace.org - June 29, 2020

The San Antonio Museum of Art is glad it kept mask requirements

Coronavirus cases in the state of Texas are surging. The rapid rise in cases and waning hospital space have caused Gov. Greg Abbott to scale back the state’s plans for reopening. The reopening plan overall has been put on pause and bars and river-rafting business have been told close again.

Most business that were already open can continue operation. The San Antonio Museum of Art reopened its doors at the end of May and is continuing to receive visitors. Emily Sano, the co-interim director of the museum, said the staff created an internal task force back in March to help ensure a safe reopening of the museum for staff and visitors. When the task force was deciding on its guidelines and rules for reopening, it debated its rule on masks. “The governor announced early on that masks were not required,” Sano explained. That announcement caused the task force to reconsider whether they should loosen the language from “required” to “recommended.”

KXAN - June 29, 2020

Demand for oil is dry, but this bill may keep money going to energy companies

Texas and Oklahoma Republican Senators John Cornyn and Jim Inhofe are trying to shore up the oil industry and oil jobs in their states. As the pandemic has all but dried-up demand for oil, the senators have introduced a bill that would keep the money flowing to energy companies and keep oil and gas workers on the payroll.

Texas provides about 40% of the nation’s oil and gas Cornyn says all that oil is good for jobs, but when oil prices plummet it means “a lot of people are getting laid off jobs.” Cornyn and Inhofe’s bill, the “Save Jobs Act” would provide tax and regulatory relief for US energy companies hit hard by the pandemic. “Be ready when the economy starts to rebound, as we are already starting to see, that they will have those people in place so they can hopefully get back to business as soon as possible,” Cornyn said. “We are looking to provide additional liquidity and sort of a lifeline to help.”

KXAN - June 30, 2020

Coin shortage hits Central Texas

A national coin shortage is now impacting Central Texas. Earlier this month, the Federal Reserve announced that pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters were now in short supply across the country. In Central Texas, signs can be found at H-E-Bs warning people not to pay with cash and to use debit cards, credit cards and correct change when possible. KXAN has reached out to H-E-B about the decision but hasn’t heard back yet.

How did we get here? According to the Federal Reserve, it began when the US Mint, the Treasury Department bureau responsible for the printing of coins, dialed back production to protect its employees from the coronavirus. Then, many of the locations where coins are dropped off and redistributed to the economy were closed. This includes banks and coin sorting kiosks. Finally, many places only started taking payment with cards and refused cash. Also affected, Austin’s homeless population. “After the COVID closures, it was kind of scary. People were going hungry,” says Amy Price with Front Steps, the non-profit that manages the ARCH downtown. She says the coin shortage coincides with fewer hand-outs on Austin’s streets, especially in the downtown area.

Houston Public Media - June 30, 2020

Texas teachers consider leaving the classroom over COVID-19 fears

For 40 years, Robin Stauffer has taught high school English in seven different school districts in three different states. Most recently, Advanced Placement English in Katy, where she says working with kids has kept her young and lighthearted. But since the pandemic hit, a question has nagged at her: Is it time to retire? "I was very upset and sad. I was torn. I went back and forth," Stauffer said. On the one hand, she isn't ready to leave the classroom. She's still passionate about why she joined the profession in the first place: "To be the type of teacher that I wish I would have had when I was in public school, to kind of right the wrongs that I experienced."

On the other hand, she knows how hard it is to maintain a campus with thousands of students. Before COVID-19, district administrators in Katy reduced their custodial staff, and it was often up to teachers to clean their own rooms. "They don't supply hand sanitizer. They don't supply wipes. None of these supplies were ever given to us. You just used what you had or what teachers themselves purchased," she said. Stauffer waited for the Katy Independent School District to release safety plans for back-to-school. Instead, she's seen what she called a "back-to-normal" attitude. And then she had to consider her health: She's 66 years old, has diabetes and a family history of heart disease, all making her more vulnerable to the coronavirus. "I just don't trust the school district to safeguard my health during this pandemic," she said. Like Stauffer, many Texas teachers are on edge and considering leaving the profession even as the state's education commissioner has declared it "safe for Texas public school students, teachers, and staff to return to school campuses for in-person instruction this fall." As many as one in five U.S. educators say they're unlikely to return to the classroom because of the coronavirus, according to a national survey conducted before Texas indicated its light-handed approach to reopening schools.

County Stories

SE Texas Record - June 25, 2020

Justices reject Kherkher’s bid to kick Morris off of ballot for 333rd District Court race

Attorney Steve Kherkher does not have standing to challenge the eligibility of a judicial candidate seeking election to the 333rd District Court, an appellate court recently concluded. Challenging incumbent Judge Daryl Moore, Brittanye Lashay Morris won the Democratic nomination in the March 3 primary election.

Two weeks later, Kherkher filed a challenge to her eligibility with Lillie Schechter, Harris County Democratic Party chair, court records show. Kherkher asserted that he provided Schechter with public records establishing that Morris did not meet the residency requirements because she had lived in Fort Bend County for part of the two years before the upcoming Nov. 3 general election. Although Schechter first concluded that a homestead application conclusively established that Morris failed to meet residency requirements, Morris eventually provided her with documents establishing her residency and the chair declared her eligible. On April 20, Kherkher filed a petition for writ of mandamus, requesting the 14th Court of Appeals compel Schechter to declare Morris ineligible, court records show.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Dallas protesters challenge constitutionality of Texas’ anti-riot law in suit, saying they were falsely arrested

In a bid to persuade courts to declare Texas' anti-rioting law unconstitutional, three protesters sued the city of Dallas on Tuesday saying police erroneously used riot charges and another offense to jail them, violating their free-speech rights. Dallas residents Lily Godinez, Yolanda McGriff and Megan Nordyke were featured in a Dallas Morning News story that raised questions about their arrests on May 30 during protests over George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis officer. Hours after the June 12 story was published, Dallas police said they were dropping the charges. In a bid to persuade courts to declare Texas' anti-rioting law unconstitutional, three protesters sued the city of Dallas on Tuesday saying police erroneously used riot charges and another offense to jail them, violating their free-speech rights. Dallas residents Lily Godinez, Yolanda McGriff and Megan Nordyke were featured in a Dallas Morning News story that raised questions about their arrests on May 30 during protests over George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis officer. Hours after the June 12 story was published, Dallas police said they were dropping the charges.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Dallas, marks the first Texas effort in roughly 40 years to test the legitimacy of the anti-rioting statute, arguing that the law is overly broad and can snare innocent people. It comes after the state’s largest police departments invoked it to arrest dozens of protesters on rioting charges. Dallas and Fort Worth police appear to have used the offense the most during recent unrest - detaining about 70 people combined - compared to only a handful of arrests in Houston, San Antonio and Austin, according to interviews and records. Fort Worth’s police chief dismissed dozens of the riot charges about a week later in the spirit of “walking the path of reform,‘' he said. Arrests for rioting also recently provoked allegations of false arrest across the U.S., including Tennessee, Kentucky and New York.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - July 1, 2020

Granbury school trustee resigns after joking about inappropriate touching in meme

A Granbury school board member who posted a meme on his Facebook page showing an instructor inappropriately touching women as they did yoga exercises resigned Tuesday night, stating that his actions were wrong. Bob Swearingen, who was elected nine months ago, resigned following a specially called school board meeting where most residents asked him to step down for the good of the district. In his Facebook post, Swearingen referred to the person as his “evil twin.”

Swearingen issued a statement on the school district’s website apologizing for posting the meme and said that it was removed from his Facebook page. “As a school board trustee I have worked hard to show compassion towards others, fight for conservative values, and put students and teachers first when making decisions. I am proud to serve a great community and school system. Unfortunately, even after apologizing, my comments have continued to draw criticism and take the district’s focus off of our students and staff. “I am a fighter and had planned to continue serving in spite of the critics who refused to accept my apology. However, I ran for school board to serve our students and community. It has become clear that this situation will not allow me to fulfill that mission.”

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - July 1, 2020

Las Vegas workers sue casinos over COVID-19 safety

Las Vegas Strip hospitality workers filed a lawsuit against casino operators on Monday, accusing the companies of failing to protect employees from Covid-19, one of the first efforts to hold employers legally responsible for infections as cases in the U.S. surge. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas against the owners of Harrah’s, MGM Grand and Bellagio casinos, says the companies didn’t immediately shut down food-and-beverage outlets and other areas after learning of positive cases, didn’t immediately inform employees when co-workers tested positive and didn’t adequately contact-trace before allowing colleagues of infected employees to return to the job.

Culinary Union Local 226 and Bartenders Union Local 165, through their joint bargaining agency, filed the lawsuit against Harrah’s Las Vegas LLC, a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corp., and the Signature Condominiums LLC at the MGM Grand and Bellagio LLC, subsidiaries of MGM Resorts International. The lawsuit said unsafe working conditions violate the unions’ contract. The unions represent 60,000 hospitality workers. In response to the lawsuit, MGM Resorts said the company has offered free testing to workers before returning to the job and requires testing for anyone with symptoms or who might have been exposed. Managers have been trained in response protocols and work closely with public-health officials on contract tracing following positive test results, according to the company. A Caesars Entertainment spokesperson said the company had no comment on the lawsuit. In a statement, the company said when a restaurant worker tested positive recently, Caesars launched an investigation at the direction of the Southern Nevada Health District, which identified co-workers who came in close proximity with the worker, the company said. The workers were placed on paid self-isolation and the restaurant has been temporarily closed for cleaning, the company said.

Fast Company - June 30, 2020

Why the Supreme Court says Booking.com can trademark its name—and why it matters

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Booking.com, the online travel reservation site, can get a trademark for its name. The Patent and Trademark Office had wanted to deny the trademark, saying that Booking.com is just a generic term for a travel reservation—booking—with dot-com attached. Generic terms, which just name something being sold, can’t be trademarked, a rule that makes sure nobody can get a monopoly on using words such as “hardware” or “wine” in a store name.

But in an 8-to-1 ruling—Justice Stephen Breyer was the dissenter—the court found that just because a word itself is generic, a web address that uses it doesn’t have to be. In this case, survey data found people see Booking.com as referring to a specific brand, not a generic type of service. “Thus, if ‘Booking.com’ were generic, we might expect consumers to understand Travelocity—another such service—to be a ‘Booking.com,'” wrote Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in the court’s opinion. “We might similarly expect that a consumer, searching for a trusted source of online hotel-reservation services, could ask a frequent traveler to name her favorite ‘Booking.com’ provider.” After all, a big purpose of trademark law is to keep consumers from being misled and make sure people are actually getting goods and services from who they think is selling them.

Associated Press - July 1, 2020

House Democrats climate plan would end greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled a plan to address climate change that would set a goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, while pushing renewable energy such as wind and solar power and addressing environmental contamination that disproportionately harms low-income and minority communities. The election-year plan backed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other leaders is less ambitious than a sweeping Green New Deal that a group of progressive Democrats outlined last year to combat climate change and create thousands of jobs in renewable energy.

The Green New Deal, championed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., calls for dramatic steps to virtually eliminate U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 with a goal of meeting “100% of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources,” including nuclear power. The new plan, put forth Tuesday in a 538-page report, offers similar goals but at a slower pace. It sets a range of targets, including a 45% reduction by 2030 of greenhouse gas emissions, which cause global warming. The plan also would require that by 2035 new cars emit no greenhouse gases, while heavy-duty trucks would eliminate those emissions by 2040. The plan would eliminate overall emissions from the power sector by 2040 and all but eliminate greenhouse emissions from all economic sectors by 2050.

Bloomberg - June 30, 2020

US states beg, borrow and cut to close massive budget gaps

It’s crunch time for U.S. states as they face their worst fiscal crisis in decades brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic that’s decimated tax collections. Eleven states have yet to enact a budget for the fiscal year that begins Wednesday. And for those that have, they’ve been forced to slash spending, lay off workers and count on billions of dollars in potential federal aid that remains bogged down in Washington. “The biggest theme that we are seeing across state budgets is uncertainty,” said Eric Kim, senior director of public finance at Fitch Ratings.

The financial crisis amid the pandemic is forcing states and cities to make tough choices even as they seek help from Washington. Moody’s Analytics has projected that state and local governments will need at least $500 billion in additional federal aid over the next two years to avoid major economic damage. While House Democrats passed a stimulus measure that would provide some $1 trillion of aid to governments, the rescue has stalled in the Republican-led Senate. Thirty-five states have enacted a full-year budget for fiscal 2021, including two -- Virginia and Wyoming -- that have authorized two-year budgets for both fiscal 2021 and fiscal 2022. Forty-six states operate on a fiscal year that begins July 1. New York starts its year on April 1, while Texas begins on Sept. 1, and Alabama and Michigan start on Oct. 1. For those states that have yet to enact a full-year budget or temporary budget for fiscal 2021, some are awaiting their governors’ signature, while others are holding off for updated economic and revenue estimates.

Courthouse News Service - June 30, 2020

Tell-all book by President’s niece Mary Trump blocked, for now

In an extraordinary prior restraint on a tell-all book about a U.S. president, a New York judge temporarily blocked publication of Mary Trump’s memoir “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man” on Tuesday. “The trial court’s temporary restraining order is only temporary, but it still is a prior restraint on core political speech that flatly violates the First Amendment,” Theodore Boutrous, an attorney for Mary Trump with the firm Gibson Dunn, said in a statement.

“We will immediately appeal. This book, which addresses matters of great public concern and importance about a sitting president in election year, should not be suppressed even for one day.” Charles Harder, who represents Mary Trump’s court opponent, her uncle Robert Trump, also vowed to pursue this case to its bitter conclusion. “The actions of Mary Trump and Simon & Schuster are truly reprehensible,” Harder said, referring to the book’s publisher. The president, his brother Robert Trump and other members of the family are all parties to a nondisclosure agreement that was reached as part of a settlement of litigation with Mary Trump over the estate of the president’s father, Fred Trump Sr., in 1999.

CNN - June 30, 2020

Senate passes extension of Paycheck Protection Program until August 8, hours ahead of deadline

The US Senate, just hours before the expiration of the small business loan Paycheck Protection Program, passed an extension of the program to August 8. The move to keep the application process for the program open comes as it was set to expire with more than $130 billion in allocated funds that remain unused. The program was designed to offer small business loans to bridge the shutdowns and help businesses keep employees in their jobs -- and in turn, the loans taken out would be forgiven, essentially shifting into a grant.

More than 4.8 million small business owners have utilized the program, which was designed as a bridge for companies to maintain their payrolls through the worst of the pandemic. While it faced a rocky rollout and dozens of shifting and new rules in its initial stages, more than $520 billion has been deployed to keep small businesses afloat. Tuesday's extension came as a surprise, even to Democrats who forced the action on the floor. While there had been discussions about moving the deadline, there were no substantive moves towards agreement on one until shortly before it actually reached the floor. "The resources are there, the need is there, we just need to change the date," Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Small Business Committee, said on the Senate floor. The bill, proposed by Senate Democrats, was passed by unanimous consent. The Democratic-led House would still need to act on the extension.

June 30, 2020

Lead Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 29, 2020

Quiet Democratic Senate runoff blows up at Hegar-West debate

The first 15 minutes of the half hour Democratic Senate debate on KVUE Monday night between MJ Hegar of Round Rock and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, was a standard-issue tag team attack on the deficiencies of President Donald Trump and the man they hope to beat in November, three-term Republican Sen. John Cornyn. The last 15 minutes was a no-holds-barred pummeling of one another that, in a hot flash of mutual passion, revealed simmering antagonisms, crossing lines of race and gender, between the 67-year-old African American lawmaker first elected to in the Texas Senate in 1992, and the 44-year-old former Air Force helicopter pilot who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for heroism, but has never held elective office.

It was great theater with uncertain consequences, though Hegar was probably right when she said in her closing statement, “John Cornyn is the person that won tonight.” “I finally agree with her on something,” tweetd Cornyn campaign spokesman Travis Considine. “What a train wreck that debate was.” But train wrecks draw attention, and with the opening of early voting Monday, and two weeks to go before the COVID-delayed runoff election on July 14, Monday night’s debate, with the bracing suddenness of a thunderstorm, electrified the pandemic-induced snoozer of a Senate race, with lines of attack that will be hard to forget, as West suggested Hegar was a Democrat of convenience, and Hegar portrayed West as encrusted with the corruption of politics-as-usual. The debate turned when KVUE anchor Ashley Goudeau, the sole host, offered each candidates a single opportunity to question the other. Hegar went first and lobbed West a slow, fat softball.

Texas Monthly - June 26, 2020

The COVID-related death of a local Republican official points to the risks of an in-person Texas GOP convention

On June 6, Bill Baker, a longtime GOP activist, attended the Kaufman County Republican Party convention, at a church in the town of Talty, thirty minutes outside Dallas. There, a handful of party faithful gathered in preparation for the statewide party convention in Houston next month. Figures like Baker make the Texas GOP run at its most fundamental level. He had been a party activist for twenty years, he wrote on his Facebook page in March, seven of which he had served as the chairman of the Kaufman County GOP. This year’s county convention was one of many local and state conventions he had been to over the years, but it would also be his last. On June 11, Baker was admitted to the hospital. He had contracted COVID-19. On June 25, while being intubated, he had a heart attack and died. He was 75.

We don’t know if Baker caught the virus at the GOP meeting. (The average incubation time for the virus is five to six days, scientists say.) But Baker’s sad death, reported on Friday by the local news website inForney.com, is worth noting because the Republican Party of Texas seems hell-bent on holding a much bigger convention of more than seven thousand delegates next month in Houston, which is a national epicenter of COVID-19. At the three-day convention, slated to start on July 16, thousands of activists like Baker will convene at the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown to handle the party’s business. As they eat and drink, they’ll come into contact with thousands of service employees around Houston. It seems like a pretty bad idea. The Texas Democratic party held a virtual convention last month to protect the lives of its own members and the public. But prominent Republican officials in the party like Governor Greg Abbott have so far given the GOP gathering the green light, even as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo has expressed mounting alarm about the situation in Houston. Is the party playing with the lives of its rank and file?

Associated Press - June 29, 2020

Florida site of GOP convention orders wearing of masks

The city of Jacksonville, Florida, where mask-averse President Donald Trump plans to accept the Republican nomination in August, ordered the wearing of face coverings Monday, joining the list of state and local governments reversing course to try to beat back a resurgence of the coronavirus. Less than a week after Mayor Lenny Curry said there would be no mask requirement, city officials announced that coverings must be worn in “situations where individuals cannot socially distance.”

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany responded by saying the president’s advice is to “do whatever your local jurisdiction requests of you.” Trump has refused to wear a mask during visits to states and businesses that require them. In recent weeks, the Republicans moved some of the convention pageantry to Jacksonville after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina objected to the holding of a large gathering in Charlotte without social-distancing measures. The convention will be in late August. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has opposed a statewide mask requirement but said in response to Jacksonville’s action that he will support local authorities who are doing what they think is appropriate.

CNN - June 29, 2020

From pandering to Putin to abusing allies and ignoring his own advisers, Trump's phone calls alarm US officials

In hundreds of highly classified phone calls with foreign heads of state, President Donald Trump was so consistently unprepared for discussion of serious issues, so often outplayed in his conversations with powerful leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan, and so abusive to leaders of America's principal allies, that the calls helped convince some senior US officials -- including his former secretaries of state and defense, two national security advisers and his longest-serving chief of staff -- that the President himself posed a danger to the national security of the United States, according to White House and intelligence officials intimately familiar with the contents of the conversations.

The calls caused former top Trump deputies -- including national security advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and White House chief of staff John Kelly, as well as intelligence officials -- to conclude that the President was often "delusional," as two sources put it, in his dealings with foreign leaders. The sources said there was little evidence that the President became more skillful or competent in his telephone conversations with most heads of state over time. Rather, he continued to believe that he could either charm, jawbone or bully almost any foreign leader into capitulating to his will, and often pursued goals more attuned to his own agenda than what many of his senior advisers considered the national interest. These officials' concerns about the calls, and particularly Trump's deference to Putin, take on new resonance with reports the President may have learned in March that Russia had offered the Taliban bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan -- and yet took no action. CNN's sources said there were calls between Putin and Trump about Trump's desire to end the American military presence in Afghanistan but they mentioned no discussion of the supposed Taliban bounties.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 30, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Empower Texans, where low character and bad politics are at last coming home to roost

Once again, Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan is connected to a disgusting secret recording. Last summer, it was Sullivan and Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen scheming in a closed-door meeting. Last week, it was two of Sullivan’s lackeys poking fun at a disabled person who also happens to be the governor of Texas. The scoffers were Cary Cheshire, vice president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, a project of Empower Texans, and Empower Texans general counsel Tony McDonald. In a series of profanity-laced outtakes, apparently distributed by mistake with the latest Texas Scorecard Radio podcast, the pair chuckled about calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to “stand firm” on a public health issue.

That is not the way good-hearted, thoughtful people speak in private or public and it is worthy of the condemnation it has gotten. Sullivan apologized to Abbott (albeit via Twitter) and suspended Cheshire and McDonald pending further disciplinary actions. But then, as we have written over the years, promoting strong moral character in our politics is not what we have come to expect from this organization. So it is good that, at long last, conservative leaders in Texas are recognizing that Empower Texans is hurting the Republican Party and the state. The central problem here isn’t just a lack of character, though that’s on full display. Sullivan, after all, engaged in a private meeting involving ugly backroom scheming that brought down a house speaker (something we know about because he also secretly recorded it). Nor is it just the insults we see now. Abbott has shown he is too big a person to be injured by foolish words. His injury and personal tragedy did not stop him from becoming a leader who has served this state for many years.

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2020

For the fourth day, Dallas County reports record new coronavirus cases at 572

Dallas County continued a four-day trend of record coronavirus daily cases Monday — reporting 572 new cases. The county also reported one additional death: an Irving man in his 40s, who had not been critically ill or admitted to an area hospital. But he did have underlying high-risk health conditions. Dallas County has now seen 20,737 cases and 353 deaths. The county does not report a number of recoveries.

The number of people hospitalized over the weekend also increased for the first time since the pandemic began. The number usually decreases because some hospitals don’t report them during the weekend, County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement. He said there were 40 hospitalizations over the weekend, raising the count from 571 to 611. “Hopefully, this is because the hospitals have made it a point to increase accuracy of weekend reporting, but either way the numbers are of great concern,” Jenkins said. Health officials said other data on hospitalizations, ICU admissions and emergency-room visits will not be available until Tuesday because of weekend reporting.

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2020

Call for removal of Confederate statues sparks debates in North Texas communities

Tributes to Confederate soldiers and generals have been in North Texas for more than a century. As of Sunday there were 203 monuments and other symbols across the state dedicated to the Confederacy, the second-highest number behind Virginia, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In the last two weeks, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant counties have taken action to remove Confederate monuments in several cities. The remaining parts of Dallas’ Confederate monument at Pioneer Park Cemetery were detached last week. Denton County’s monument, in the courthouse square since 1918, was completely removed Thursday.

The call for statues to be removed isn’t unprecedented. According to Dr. Kristin Henze, a history lecturer at Sam Houston State University, Confederate statues all over the country were defaced when they were first erected. On Friday, President Donald Trump issued an executive order protecting such monuments. What makes this time different, Henze said, is that the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus pandemic, which disproportionately affects Black and brown communities, call more attention to the continued structural inequalities within the country. “Part of ... [the movement] is challenging the nation to contend with its history and how it impacts the present,” she said. “So I think all of that has impacted the current moment and maybe is why it’s so much bigger than maybe people have felt about [it in] the past.”

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2020

Sen. John Cornyn: How we can police our communities better

The killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis was a brutal, senseless and avoidable tragedy, and one our country has witnessed countless times before. In many ways, his death was the match that ignited nationwide conversations about the racial injustices that have existed in our country for generations. These systemic problems have led to inequalities in everything from education, to health care, to housing, and while each of these must be addressed, the most important place to start is with police reforms. In a recent poll conducted by The Washington Post and George Mason University, nearly 70% of Americans agreed that Floyd’s death was a sign of broader problems in the treatment of Black Americans by police.

While there’s widespread agreement that change is needed, there’s no consensus on what that change should look like. In order to get there, it’s important to listen and learn from a variety of voices. Over the past few weeks, I’ve teamed up with the mayors of both Dallas and Houston to host roundtable discussions with law enforcement, faith and community leaders. During our conversation in Dallas, Sheriff Marian Brown said, “We have to reach a point where we are comfortable having uncomfortable conversations.” Whether in Congress, workplaces or homes, these discussions aren’t easy, and for too long the topic has been avoided altogether. But progress can only happen if we’re having these important conversations and following up with action. Reforms at the state and local levels will be the biggest drivers of change. This is where decisions are made about hiring, data sharing and day-to-day police activities. By and large, that’s a good thing — a one-size-fits-all rulebook would create more problems than solutions. But there are basic practices that should be standard across the board, and Congress has a responsibility to ensure all police departments are transparent, accountable and well-trained.

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2020

Deadline extended for low-income Texas families to apply for ‘pandemic’ benefit subbing for lost school meals

Texas is extending the deadline for low-income families to apply for a one-time food benefit to replace the value of free or discounted school meals that children have lost during the coronavirus outbreak. Earlier this month, the “Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer” program, or P-EBT, began assisting families with children who have temporarily lost access to the National School Lunch Program because of COVID-19-related school closures. On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Health and Human Services Commission deputy executive commissioner Wayne Salter announced the deadline, which was this month, is being extended to July 31.

“The extension of the P-EBT deadline helps ensure that Texans have time to apply for this program and provide nutritious food to their families as the state continues to combat COVID-19,” Abbott said in a written statement. Up to 3.6 million low-income school children are believed to be eligible for the one-time benefit of $285 per child. The children’s families can spend the $1 billion of credits, paid for by the federal government, at a grocery store using electronic benefit cards, commonly known as Lone Star Cards. Families already on food stamps with children between the ages of 5 and 18 were to have had the P-EBT benefit loaded automatically on their cards by May 22. Families on food stamps with youngsters under 5 or between the ages of 19 and 21, and families not on food stamps were supposed to receive a letter from their school districts by May 31. The letters had instructions for applying online.

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2020

Perot Museum and Holocaust museum delay reopening plans in wake of governor’s new order

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science and the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum issued a joint statement on Monday morning, announcing that they have “decided to pause plans to reopen in early July.”

In addition, both museums announced that they are “working in close coordination” with other downtown museums, including the Dallas Museum of Art, the Nasher Sculpture Center, the Crow Museum of Asian Art and the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza “to evaluate when we will reopen to the public.” The announcement cites “the spike in COVID-19 cases in Dallas County and the rollback of the state’s phased reopening” instituted last week by Gov. Greg Abbott in the wake of a flood of new cases. Abbott’s order also closed bars entirely and lowered restaurant capacity to 50% after recently allowing them to reopen at 75% capacity. Just last week, the Holocaust museum had announced it planned to reopen July 8. The Perot Museum marked its calendar for a July 9 reopening earlier this month. Both museums have been closed since March.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2020

Texas police to be asked again for race data on traffic stops. This time it will be useful.

The Texas Commission on Law Enforcement will ask nearly 2,000 Texas law enforcement agencies to resubmit information legislators intended be used to analyze traffic stops statewide to look for patterns suggesting police were treating minority motorists differently - but which turned out to be worthless because TCOLE neglected to ask departments to include information about the race of the drivers. The change comes days after Hearst Newspapers published a story detailing how the information, required by the 2017 Sandra Bland Act, was impossible to use for its intended purpose.

“I’m trying to jump on it pretty fast,” said Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), a sponsor of the bill, who said he spoke Monday morning with TCOLE officials about how to correct the problem. Coleman said he also has asked the agency to work with academic experts to ensure the information it is asking of Texas law enforcement agencies can be used to actually conduct racial bias analyses. Alex del Carmen, a criminal justice professor at Tarleton State University who helps train police executives, said he worked Sunday to create a survey that would produce the necessary information. Coleman said the new list of questions will be used to gather the information for 2020. But he also said he asked the agency to contact police departments to ask them to redo their 2019 surveys, originally submitted in March.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2020

Democrats urge Gov. Abbott to let Texas cities, counties issue mandatory stay-at-home orders

Texas Democrats in Congress are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to let cities and counties issue mandatory stay-at-home orders as the coronavirus outbreak continues. Eight Democrats issued a joint statement on Monday, warning that the Fourth of July weekend is approaching and there are no mandates that Texans wear face coverings in public, while many beaches remain open and gatherings up to 100 people are still permitted under the governor’s current orders.

“Municipalities and their local law enforcement agencies must be allowed to listen to their health care experts and institute whatever measures are needed to bring the coronavirus under control,” they said. “Governor Abbott took important steps to mitigate the virus’ impact, but it’s not enough. The status quo is unacceptable and counties must be allowed to decide for themselves what is best for their citizens. ” Among those pushing Abbott to allow local leaders to issue the orders are U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia, Sheila Jackson Lee and Al Green of Houston and Lloyd Doggett of San Antonio. U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez of McAllen led the call and Reps. Filemon Vela of Brownsville, Marc Veasey of Fort Worth and Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas joined, as well.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2020

Chief Harris County trial prosecutor resigns over post linking Black Lives Matter and Nazis

The head prosecutor for Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg’s trial division resigned Monday after posting a meme on Facebook last week that equated protesters who remove Confederate statues with Nazis. The meme posted by Assistant District Attorney Kaylynn Williford last week shows a black-and-white photograph of hands holding an overflowing bin of rings. It says, “Wedding bands that were removed from Holocaust victims prior to being executed, 1945. Each ring represents a destroyed family. Never forget, Nazis tore down statues. Banned free speech. Blamed economic hardships on one group of people. Instituted gun control. Sound Familiar?”

Williford said in a statement that she took down the post after a friend’s daughter and later a Jewish lawyer told her they found it offensive to compare the two groups. Williford, a 28-year-veteran of the office who has tried major capital cases, said this was never her intent. She posted it, she said, because she thought it was “thought provoking and promoted tolerance.” She interpreted it to promote working “towards solutions instead of tearing each other down.” Williford’s departure came after a vociferous outcry about the post from lawyers and the broader public and follows other resignations over social media posts. Keith Nielsen announced he would not take over as the county leader of the GOP in Houston after he came under fire for posting a Martin Luther King Jr. quote next to a banana following George Floyd’s death. And HPD Sgt. Robert Clasen abruptly retired when he faced a disciplinary hearing for a post blaming blacks for problems they face.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2020

Trump-Biden race has big divide between Texas men and women, polling shows

The gender divide among Texans is becoming clear in public polling of the presidential race.

A new Fox News Poll of 1,001 registered voters in Texas, shows the race between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden is essentially a dead heat with Biden getting 45 percent of the vote to 44 percent for Trump. But among men and women, the results are vastly different. Among men, Trump is beating Biden with 51 percent of the vote to 39 percent. But with women, it’s exactly flipped with 51 percent supporting Biden and 39 percent supporting Trump. It’s not the first poll to show such a divide. A Quinnipiac Unversity Poll of 1,166 Texas voters earlier this month showed Trump beating Biden among all voters 44 percent to 43 percent. But among men, Trump was leading 49 percent to 37 percent for Biden. Among women, Biden was leading with 50 percent to 38 percent for Trump.

Houston Chronicle - June 29, 2020

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta to take Golden Nugget online gaming business public

Houston billionaire Tilman Fertitta is taking his seven-year-old online gaming business public. The new company, which will be called Golden Nugget Online Gaming Inc. when the deal closes later this year, will go public through a so-called blank check company Fertitta started last year with New York-based Jefferies Financial Group. These "special purpose entities" raise cash for future acquisitions. This entity, called Landcadia Holdings II, raised $316 million.

The deal values the new company at approximately $745 million, based on estimated 2021 revenue of $122 million, according to a press release. The price will be paid to Golden Nugget Online Gaming's parent company and will include a combination of cash and Landcadia II equity. Landcadia -- whose name is derived from Fertitta-owned Landry's and Leucadia National Corp., Jefferies' previous name -- is the partnership's second blank-check company. In 2016, Fertitta and Jefferies' CEO Rich Handler raised $250 million through Landcadia Holdings Inc., which was used to acquire food delivery startup Waitr in November 2018 for $308 million.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 29, 2020

Leaders praise Bill Thornton’s legacy of growth at helm of Fort Worth Chamber

In 1989, the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce didn’t hire a business tycoon with years of corporate experience as its director of local business development — it hired a football coach instead. That same football coach ran the right plays at the Chamber, so he successfully moved up to vice president of economic development in 1992. Eight years later, this coach ran another series of successful plays, so he moved up again, this time taking the helm as president in October 2000. The name of this football coach? It’s William J. Thornton, but his colleagues simply call him “Bill.”

Thornton is officially set to conclude a decades-long career as president of the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce on July 7 after announcing his retirement about a year ago. From overseeing the significant growth of the AllianceTexas business park to handling the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Thornton’s presidency was marked by major milestones. During his presidency, between 2001 and 2019, Fort Worth saw a 43% increase in the number of jobs and a 44.75% increase in household income, according to data the Chamber provided the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Instead of having to figure out running plays for football players, Thornton had to figure out ways to stimulate local business growth in one of the largest cities in Texas, but strategizing was nothing new for him. Some business leaders say that his experience in coaching was exactly what set him apart.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 29, 2020

Marc Veasey and Garth Graham: Let’s tackle health disparities so Black, Hispanic Texans are harmed less by COVID-19

As the coronavirus pandemic ravages communities across our country and the globe, the most vulnerable populations – minorities, older adults and traditionally under-served communities are hit especially hard. A recent U.S. study found that African Americans experience higher death rates, and higher prevalence rates of chronic conditions, which is especially dangerous given the way COVID-19 attacks its victims. Additionally, in some areas of the U.S., Covid-19 is killing up to three times more Hispanic individuals than their white counterparts. These statistics are alarming and underscore the need for Congress and health care professionals to work together to address the underlying factors that contribute to increased COVID-19 death rates among minority populations.

Factors such as a lack of basic access to health care exacerbate many of the recent disparities we see in our communities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that Latinos are almost three times as likely to lack health insurance, and African Americans are almost twice as likely to be uninsured than non-Hispanic whites. Texas has one of the largest uninsured populations in the country and the 33rd Congressional District of Texas that Congressman Veasey represents has one of the highest rates of population without health insurance in the country. We need to provide additional options for high-quality, affordable health care coverage, particularly for minority communities. This is particularly true now, with more than one million Texans having lost their health insurance due to COVID-19 job losses. In addition, one of the most important things we can do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and save lives in minority communities is to rapidly ramp up testing across all communities.

San Antonio Express-News - June 30, 2020

265 sign up to testify on first Texas sex ed changes since 1997

Proposed changes to the statewide sexual education policy — the first in more than two decades — drew 265 Texans to a virtual State Board of Education hearing Monday where they debated topics including whether students should start learning about contraception in middle school. The recommended changes, which comprehensive sex education advocates have applauded, would start lessons on birth control in seventh and eighth grade, rather than in high school, and add lessons about consent from fifth grade through high school.

The debate Monday revolved around which approach would keep students safest and healthiest and would reduce the state’s teen pregnancy rate — the fourth-highest in the nation. Ariana Rodriguez, a community activist from South Texas, recalled being taught abstinence using a rose metaphor. Each incidence of pre-marital sex meant losing a petal. “They ended the presentation stating that no one wants a rose without any petals and therefore no one wants a person who has had many partners,” Rodriguez said. “The students around me sobbed as they heard they were unworthy of love simply because of their sexual activity.” The result, she said, was a lot of shame and embarrassment and lingering misunderstandings about safe sex.

San Antonio Express-News - June 29, 2020

‘Exponential surge’ continues — 650 new coronavirus cases in Bexar County, 881 people hospitalized

San Antonio officials reported 650 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday as the rapid spread of the coronavirus continued to put pressure on area hospitals and officials warned against large gatherings ahead of the Fourth of July weekend. No new deaths were reported, leaving Bexar County’s total at 109 since the start of the pandemic. The confirmed new cases brought the county’s total to 10,797.

Virtually every statistic related to the virus is heading in the wrong direction, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the daily city-county coronavirus briefing, and hospitals are under high stress. San Antonio-area hospitals were treating 881 COVID-19 patients, an increase of 79 since Sunday. One in every four people admitted to a hospital in Bexar County is there because of COVID-19, Nirenberg said. A total of 274 patients were in intensive care as of Monday, and 154 were on ventilators. Both numbers have doubled within the last week, Nirenberg said. “Unfortunately, we are still experiencing an exponential surge in our community,” Nirenberg said. “We must act swiftly, we must act collectively to contain this virus.”

Austin American-Statesman - June 29, 2020

Two arrested in connection to protests at Texas Capitol

Two people have been arrested in connection to crimes that occurred during recent police brutality protests in Austin. Law enforcement officials said 22-year-old Darius Deshawn Berkley of Austin was arrested June 27 and is accused of rioting at the State Capitol building on June 22. The Texas Department of Public Safety said Berkley was already at the Travis County Jail on unrelated charges when authorities made the arrest.

Gerald Govan Brown, 18, of Pflugerville, is being accused of multiple crimes, including felony criminal mischief for the destruction of a public monument, as well as misdemeanor criminal mischief for attempting to take a weapon from a peace officer, resisting arrest, interference with public duties and participating in a riot. “Both arrests come as the result of ongoing investigations by DPS special agents who reviewed hundreds of hours of videos from various media platforms, surveillance camera footage, law enforcement databases and open source information over the last several weeks, and the investigation continues,” DPS said. No further details of the arrests were provided on Monday.

Texas Observer - June 29, 2020

As COVID-19 cases surge, some incarcerated people remain behind bars after making bail

At night, he prayed. To 35-year-old Ideare Bailey, it seemed like the only thing he could do. He was arrested on a theft charge on April 6, and placed in a Dallas County jail pod with 63 other men. Jail didn’t bother him, but his bunkmate did. Ever since Bailey arrived, the man had been coughing, and on the outside, COVID-19 was all anyone talked about. The virus is particularly dangerous in prisons, and Bailey had heard about a recent outbreak in the Dallas County jail. In Bailey’s pod, separation was impossible. There were no cells or doors, only cots on bunk beds in tight-knit groups of four. Soon, Bailey started to develop his own symptoms. He says he told officers that his head was throbbing and he thought he had a fever, but they wouldn’t take his temperature. On April 10, two days after first expressing concerns to jail officers, he was taken to the infirmary. His fever was 106 degrees, and he tested positive for COVID-19. When Ideare phoned his wife, Kivia, to share his diagnosis, she collapsed.

The couple hadn’t planned to pay Ideare’s $100,000 bail, but, shaken by the possibility of her husband dying, Kivia scrambled to get enough cash for a bail bond. But paying his cash bail wouldn’t be enough to get Ideare out of jail: A judge also required Ideare to wear an electronic leg monitor, and pretrial services, which supervise defendants before their court dates, refused to get near him. “When I asked why they wouldn’t fit him with a monitor, they told me, ‘He has COVID-19. We’re not going to touch him,’” Kivia later testified, recounting what the pretrial services employee told her. “If [your] husband had not been out committing crime, he wouldn’t have been placed in the Dallas County jail to get COVID-19.” As COVID-19 continues to ravage jails and prisons, attorneys say public officials in charge of electronic monitoring are keeping inmates locked up long after they should have been released. Ideare is one of at least five Dallas County inmates who caught COVID-19 while incarcerated but remained in jail long after making bail. In all five cases, public officials refused to touch them. Proponents of electronic monitoring argue that the practice is a good way to reduce jail populations while keeping the public safe. But while Dallas County judges continue to order ankle monitors for people out on bail, the employees in charge of fitting inmates with these devices have frequently refused to do so.

New York Times - June 27, 2020

Tamir Kalifa: 'San Antonio strong'

Austin Wondzell’s midnight blue S.U.V. was one of the nearly 2,000 vehicles winding through a stadium parking lot on a Friday morning in mid-May. Like millions of Americans, he turned to a food bank for help when he lost his job. “I can’t believe there are so many people that need food,” he said, as he inched closer to the San Antonio Food Bank’s second mega-distribution of the week. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, food bank lines stretching for miles and jam-packed parking lots across the United States have come to symbolize a new food security crisis set off by sudden and unprecedented job losses. While states have begun to loosen restrictions, surges in new cases will likely keep people home, out of work and in need of assistance. Surveys conducted amid the pandemic by the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation found “38 percent of households reported moderate to high levels of food insecurity,” compared with 11 percent of households in 2018. Food banks nationwide have reported increased demand.

For the San Antonio Food Bank, which serves 16 counties in Southwest Texas, demand has doubled. Before the pandemic, they were feeding approximately 60,000 people per week. That number is now closer to 120,000. In March, April and May, the food bank reported distributing over 23.3 million pounds of food, serving over 240,000 cars at drive-through distributions and completing over 5,800 home deliveries. To meet the demand, the food bank has organized twice-weekly mega-distributions, where up to 2,000 vehicles receive two weeks’ worth of food. They are also carrying out and supporting smaller-scale distributions at locations across southwest Texas. In May alone, 27,595 vehicles were served during mega distributions in Bexar County, home to San Antonio. At the city’s mega-distribution sites, dozens of volunteers, clad in gray “San Antonio Strong,” T-shirts, colorful masks and disposable blue gloves are fanned out across a stadium parking lot temporarily filled with tents and pallets of food. Starting at 9 a.m., drivers, some of whom have been waiting since dawn, are guided down lanes to different stations, where items like bread, squash, apples, bacon and more, are packed into trunks, truck beds and back seats with assembly-line efficiency. From above the crowded parking lot, the vehicles look like a statistic. But behind every wheel is an individual with his or her own experience navigating the pandemic-imposed challenges and a reason for getting in line. These are some of their stories.

WFAA - June 30, 2020

LULAC President Domingo Garcia urges Latinas not to join the military after the disappearance of Vanessa Guillen

Vanessa Guillen's family says they are not getting straight answers from the military. "I am praying for her to be found soon. I just want her alive. How is it possible for her to go missing on base on a military base? How it is possible?" said Mayra Guillen, Vanessa's sister. How does a soldier vanish off one of the most secure military bases in the world?

Guillen was last seen in a parking lot outside her regiment headquarters at Fort Hood on April 22. "There’s cameras everywhere, so it's really impossible for her to disappear there from the largest military base in the United States without anyone knowing or finding out,” said Domingo Garcia, the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC. He says the military dragged its feet at the beginning of the investigation, losing precious time. And now the Army is investigating the possibility Guillen was being sexual harassed by one of her superior officers.

KUT - June 29, 2020

'An exercise in trust': UT Austin plans to reopen dorms and dining halls, offer in-person classes

UT Austin students will have the choice of attending classes in person, taking them online or doing a combination when campus reopens in August, the university announced Monday. Residence halls, dining halls, student centers, the union and recreation centers will be open.

Under the university's plan, students living in dorms will still have roommates, but will be required to wear masks in common areas. Students will be able to cancel their residence fees if they choose to stay home and do digital learning. Students and staff will be required to wear masks inside campus buildings, unless alone in a private office or when eating in a dining facility. During a virtual press conference Monday, administrators said they could enact penalties for people who don’t follow these rules, but said they’d prefer students to just keep safety a priority.

City Stories

KVUE - June 29, 2020

Austin shatters 3-day record for number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases

This past Saturday, Sunday and Monday saw records broken for the number of new, daily cases of COVID-19 in Travis County, according to data from Austin Public Health. A record daily high of 728 new cases was reported Saturday, with 636 new cases reported Sunday and 508 more reported Monday. Based on a 14-day moving average, the number of virus infections has increased 230%, while testing is up 57%, based on a KVUE data analysis. Daily hospital admissions in Austin have now risen 53.4% over the past 14 days, with 68 people hospitalized, 121 in ICU and 68 on ventilators as of Monday.

According to a KVUE analysis, Williamson County cases are up 245% based on a 14-day average, while in Hays County, there’s been a 195% increase based on a 14-day average. Meanwhile, data from the Texas Department of State Health Services reveals an ever-rising number of hospitalizations across the state, up 105% over the past 14 days. State-reported data also indicates that of the 54,000-plus staffed hospital beds in Texas, only about 14,000, or one-fourth, remain available for additional patients.

San Antonio Express-News - June 30, 2020

Business owner ordered to stop seeking volunteers to aid police with riots

City officials are asking the owner of a local sign company to halt an unauthorized effort to rally more than 100 volunteers to help San Antonio police with riots. James Alfaro, owner of Alamo Sign Solutions, was issued a cease and desist order by the city Monday alleging that a poster he created makes unlawful and misleading claims of recruitment for police. The poster touts a civilian patrol while recruiting people with a concealed carry permit, military background, or who are “just a Texas Patriot,” willing to “protect our city and show support for our police department.”

SAPD Chief William McManus and City Manager Erik Walsh said Alfaro’s actions are unnecessary and unauthorized. “This poster has no affiliation whatsoever with the City of San Antonio nor the men and women who wear the San Antonio police uniform. We once again ask that he remove any reference to SAPD from his materials,” McManus said. The letter informs Alfaro that continued claims purporting to be assisting SAPD may result in the city seeking legal action against him. “During a time when our residents are speaking up for changes in policing, flyers like these only seek to stoke controversy,” said Walsh. “We do not endorse these actions and I hope this individual will finally cease these harmful actions.” Efforts to reach Alfaro for comment Monday night were unsuccessful.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 29, 2020

If the economy is so bad, why are home prices still high in Dallas-Fort Worth?

Not even the worldwide spread of a dangerous virus can cool off Fort Worth’s hot housing market. Real estate prices in Dallas-Fort Worth are still sizzling, despite the COVID shutdown, data provided by real estate researchers shows. Why is that?

At a time when COVID-19 and governments’ response to it has shuttered hundreds of Metroplex restaurants and retail stores — and 340,000 Dallas-Fort Worth residents have been added to the unemployment rolls since March — the price of buying a home continues to rise. Amy Gay, a mother of three young children, said she and her husband were surprised to discover that there had been no COVID-related dip in Fort Worth housing prices. The couple recently visited a Cape Cod-style, 2,100-square-foot home in far north Fort Worth’s Colonial Heights neighborhood with an asking price of $245,000. That’s about the same price that existing homes of that size were selling for before the pandemic.

National Stories

KSAT - June 29, 2020

Those face mask exemption cards are fake, feds warn

Fake face mask exemption postings, cards and flyers have been popping up on the internet and it was enough for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to issue an alert. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) website posted the DOJ alert last week after laminated cards were distributed by the Freedom to Breathe Agency, according to CNN. The laminated cards feature a DOJ seal and reference the ADA, but neither department has endorsed them, according to the alert.

Lenka Koloma, founder of the Freedom to Breathe Agency, told CNN the mission of the group is “freedom and personal liberty” and said people should only wear masks “whenever they wish to be silenced and muzzled.” “The Department urges the public not to rely on the information contained in these postings and to visit ADA.gov for ADA information issued by the Department” the alert reads. “Do not be fooled by the chicanery and misappropriation of the DOJ eagle,” said U.S. Attorney Martin in a press release from the DOJ on Thursday. “These cards do not carry the force of law. The ‘Freedom to Breathe Agency,’ or ‘FTBA,’ is not a government agency.”

NPR - June 29, 2020

U.S. pediatricians call for in-person school this fall

The nation's pediatricians have come out with a strong statement in favor of bringing children back to the classroom this fall wherever and whenever they can do so safely. The American Academy of Pediatrics' guidance "strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school." The guidance says "schools are fundamental to child and adolescent development and well-being."

The AAP cites "mounting evidence" that transmission of the coronavirus by young children is uncommon, partly because they are less likely to contract it in the first place. On the other hand, the AAP argues that based on the nation's experience this spring, remote learning is likely to result in severe learning loss and increased social isolation. Social isolation, in turn, can breed serious social, emotional and health issues: "child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation." Furthermore, these impacts will be visited more severely on Black and brown children, as well as low-income children and those with learning disabilities. The guidance for returning to in-person schooling includes recommendations about physical distancing, cleaning and disinfection, hand-washing, and using outdoor spaces whenever possible.

Roll Call - June 29, 2020

3 things to watch in Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah primaries Tuesday

Three states hold primaries Tuesday, with two of them well versed in how to process mailed ballots. Colorado and Utah are two of the five states that conducted their elections entirely by mail prior to the coronavirus pandemic. Other states have scrambled to adjust to exponential increases in absentee ballot requests from people wanting to avoid voting in person, but these states already have systems in place for smooth vote-counting. In Colorado, ballots are due to election officials by Tuesday. In Utah, ballots received one to two weeks after the election can be counted as long as they are postmarked by Tuesday. Oklahoma does allow voters to cast absentee ballots without providing an excuse, and a record number of voters have filed absentee ballot requests.

Most of the primaries to watch in these three states will set the matchups for competitive House and Senate races in the fall. But in one battle, the winner will be the strong favorite in November. That’s in Utah’s deep-red 1st District, where four candidates are competing for the GOP nomination to succeed Republican Rob Bishop, who is running for lieutenant governor. Progressive candidates saw some encouraging returns in last week’s primaries in Kentucky and New York. And former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is looking to tap into that energy on the left in his Senate race against former Gov. John Hickenlooper. Both men are competing in the state’s Democratic primary to take on Cory Gardner, the most vulnerable Republican in the Senate. While he was running for president last year, Hickenlooper said he had no desire to be a senator. But he ultimately decided to jump into the Senate race and was quickly endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. In the primary, Hickenlooper has an advantage in name recognition and campaign cash. The former governor had more than seven times as much money in his campaign account as Romanoff in the final days of the race, with $5.9 million on hand as of June 10 to $795,000 for Romanoff.

CNBC - June 27, 2020

Trump fans are flocking to the social media app Parler — its CEO is begging liberals to join them

Jim Jordan, Elise Stefanik and Nikki Haley all have something in common, other than a strong affection towards President Trump. The three Republican politicians joined social media app Parler this week, adding their profiles to a site that’s emerged as the new digital stomping ground for anti-Twitter conservatives. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas arrived earlier this month and Rep. Devin Nunes of California started in February, while Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has been a member since 2018, the year the app launched. “It’s about time y’all joined me on @parler_app,” Paul tweeted on Wednesday. “What’s taking the rest of you so long?!”

To be fair, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has also been on Parler since 2018. Eric Trump, the president’s son, and his wife, Lara, joined on the same day last month. Like Twitter, the app lets users share comments, photos and news stories with their followers. The catalyst for the latest growth surge was a story from The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, which said that the Trump administration was looking for alternatives to Facebook and Twitter over concern that more content is going to be blocked as the election campaign heats up. The Journal named Parler as a possible alternative. Two days later, Parler was the top-ranked iPhone app in the news category, ahead of Twitter and Reddit, and 24th overall, just behind Venmo and WhatsApp, according to App Annie. User growth surged to 1.5 million from 1 million over the course of about a week, said John Matze, Parler’s 27-year-old founder and CEO. “We’re a community town square, an open town square, with no censorship,” Matze said in an interview on Thursday, from his home in Las Vegas. “If you can say it on the street of New York, you can say it on Parler.”

Politico - June 24, 2020

Let’s get America out of the propaganda racket

After more than three years of talking about it, the Trump administration finally trundled over to the Voice of America—and its sister institutions that also operate under the U.S. Agency for Global Media umbrella: Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks, the Office of Cuba Broadcasting—and took possession of the properties. The chiefs of each organization were fired and replaced by President Donald Trump’s newly confirmed chief executive of USAGM, Michael Pack. VOA’s two top journalists, Amanda Bennett and Sandra Sugawara, quit in protest, leaving Pack entirely in charge of these international media outlets whose purported mission is to tell America’s story to the world.

If the idea of Trump and Pack, a documentary filmmaker and comrade of Steve Bannon, running the U.S. government’s news and propaganda operations alarms you, you’ve got company. In the Atlantic, journalist/historian Anne Applebaum calls the moves a “coup d’état” by the “extremist and most ideological wing of a single political party.” A recent New York Times editorial fears that Pack will turn “VOA into a propaganda tool of the White House.” A Washington Post editorial concurs, fretting that the worst is yet to come as the new USAGM overlords complete their purge of longtime employees and convert the VOA “into another vehicle for promoting Mr. Trump.” The critics are dead right about the direction Trump’s very legal encroachment on the broadcasters might take. Bannon preposterously regards VOA as filled with agents of the “deep state.” The president himself has attacked VOA’s Covid-19 coverage from China, and before installing Pack, a White House press release absurdly accused VOA of promoting Chinese and Russian propaganda. And Bannon has been transparent about his designs for VOA. In a 2018 Los Angeles Times article, he said he tried to talk Trump out of establishing his own media operation, something the president actively daydreams about. “You got one,” Bannon told Trump. “It’s called Voice of America.”

June 29, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Gov. Greg Abbott jumps into Texas GOP runoffs, with aim of thrashing Empower Texans

Gov. Greg Abbott was on the receiving end recently of some jokes about his use of a wheelchair – and his alleged kowtowing to liberal Texas cities on COVID-19. Now, he’s going on offense. In a two-week early voting period for the July GOP runoffs that begins Monday, Abbott’s using his broad popularity among Republican voters, lists of likely voters and elaborate campaign organization to try to propel three state or county-level candidates past rivals associated with Empower Texans.

In a fourth race on the July 14 ballot, he’s intervened to try to rescue a Texas House incumbent who’s labeled his challenger a puppet of the staunchly conservative group – though her association to Empower Texans is tenuous. Abbott’s push comes just more than a week after Empower Texans operatives Tony McDonald and Cary Cheshire offended a wide array of Republicans, not to mention others, when their June 19 Texas Scorecard Radio podcast was mistakenly released with derogatory comments they made about Abbott when they thought they were off the air. In their expletive-laced discussion, McDonald and Cheshire called Abbott “evil,” “a revolting piece of ****” and joked about they’d just made sly if potentially offensive references in their podcast to his paralysis and use of a wheelchair.

Houston Chronicle - June 28, 2020

Houston hospitals hit 100% base ICU capacity. Then they stopped reporting data.

Texas Medical Center hospitals have stopped reporting key metrics showing the stress rising numbers of COVID-19 patients are placing on their facilities, undermining data that policy makers and the public have relied upon during the pandemic to gauge the spread of the coronavirus. The change came one day after the hospitals reported their base intensive care capacity had hit 100 percent for the first time during the pandemic, with projections showing the institutions — which together comprise the world’s largest medical complex — were on pace to exceed their “unsustainable surge capacity” by July 6. It also followed discussions between Gov. Greg Abbott and hospital executives in which the governor expressed displeasure with negative headlines about ICU capacity, sources familiar with the talks said.

Abbott spokesman John Wittman said any insinuation that the governor directed the executives to stop publishing certain data is false. “The governor’s office believes all hospitals should be reporting accurate data to the state and to the public as often as possible,” Wittman said Sunday morning. “We demanded more information to share, not less.” The shift, in which TMC deleted charts from its online COVID-19 dashboard, also accompanied public confusion surrounding the hospitals’ ability to withstand a massive spike in cases that has followed Abbott’s May decisions to lift restrictions intended to slow the virus. Last Wednesday, 11 TMC leaders issued a statement warning that an “alarming” increase in hospitalizations soon could “overwhelm” their systems. The next morning, Abbott issued an order restricting elective procedures at hospitals in Harris and Texas’ three other largest counties, saying he wanted to ensure the facilities retained enough beds to deal with the surge of cases. Shortly after, four of the 11 TMC CEOs held a video press conference to tone down the concern they had expressed just 18 hours before. Hospital leaders wound up “unintentionally sounding an alarm bell too loudly,” Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom said.

Associated Press - June 29, 2020

World hits coronavirus milestones amid fears worse to come

The world surpassed two sobering coronavirus milestones Sunday -- 500,000 confirmed deaths, 10 million confirmed cases -- and hit another high mark for daily new infections as governments that attempted reopenings continued to backtrack and warn that worse news could be yet to come. “COVID-19 has taken a very swift and very dangerous turn in Texas over just the past few weeks,” said Gov. Greg Abbott, who allowed businesses to start reopening in early May but on Friday shut down bars and limited restaurant dining amid a spike in cases.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom rolled back reopenings of bars in seven counties, including Los Angeles. He ordered them to close immediately and urged eight other counties to issue local health orders mandating the same. More Florida beaches will be closing again to avoid further spread of the new coronavirus as officials try to tamp down on large gatherings amid a spike in COVID-19 cases. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said interactions among young people are driving the surge. “Caution was thrown to the wind and so we are where we are,” DeSantis said. South Africa’s health minister warned that the country’s current surge of cases is expected to rapidly increase in the coming weeks and push hospitals to the limit. Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize said the current rise in infections has come from people who “moved back into the workplace.

KXAN - June 28, 2020

Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance suing State of Texas over Gov. Abbott’s order shutting down bars

The Texas Bar and Nightclub Alliance says it is planning to sue the State of Texas over Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order that shut down bars across the state. In an email to members, TBNA described the governor’s decision to once again close bars as “irresponsible and shameful” and urged bar owners to violate the order by remaining open. Gov. Abbott’s latest executive order came as Texas drew national attention over the last week for hitting record numbers of new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations linked to the virus.

“At this time, it is clear that the rise in cases is largely driven by certain types of activities, including Texans congregating in bars,” he said on Friday. The announcement was made Friday morning. By 12 p.m. Friday, all bars in Texas had to close. In response, TBNA told its members that it is preparing to file a lawsuit against the state. “Our Board members have been generous in retaining legal counsel on behalf of all 51% licenses across the state so that we can file suit this week against the State in both state court and federal court seeking a TRO to end the Governor’s overreach,” it said. The organization also said it has counsel “standing by to aid” any bar that is ticketed, fined, has its license suspended or is criminally charged for remaining open despite the order. “In light of Greg Abbott’s irresponsible and shameful actions this morning that shutter the businesses that provide a livelihood for your families and employees, we support our members in the constitutional right to protest by keeping your businesses open,” TBNA said.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Mike Pence in Dallas as Gov. Abbott says COVID-19 has taken ‘very dangerous turn in Texas'

Vice President Mike Pence on Sunday pledged to commit the resources Texas needs to win the fight against COVID-19, and he urged Americans to be diligent about wearing masks and washing hands in order to mitigate the spread of the deadly virus. “President Trump wanted us to be here today with the developments over the last two weeks with the rising positivity and the rising number of cases with a very simple message and that is to you, the people of Texas: We’re with you,” Pence said. “We’re going to stay with you. We’re going to make sure that our health care system in Texas has the resources, has the supplies, has the personnel to meet this moment.”

Emerging from a meeting with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Sen. John Cornyn and medical experts, Pence pleaded with Americans to help public health experts beat back the virus. “The governor and I talked this week. We talked about importance of people--in this moment--of calling on people across Texas to wear a mask,” Pence said. “It’s an important message,” he said. “We’re here to convey it.” The vice president shrugged off a question about possible missteps by the administration in dealing with the pandemic. “Well, to be honest, I serve alongside the president, he’s always eyes forward,” Pence said. Pence’s Dallas visit, which included a stop at First Baptist Church, was on a day when Dallas County had its highest number of coronavirus cases to date. It’s one of several COVID-19 hot spots in Texas, and health officials fear the new cases will lead to more hospitalizations and death.

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Bar in Burleson protests shutdown, saying it’s being ‘bullied by our governor'

Customers of a bar in Burleson named Cooter Brown’s protested Sunday afternoon after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered bars to shut down two days prior. Customers couldn’t drink inside the beer like usual, but its owner Tara Worley invited customers over for water and Cokes as they held signs hoping to show Abbott how the shutdown is hurting small business-owners.

Worley says the bar is “completely upside-down” after being closed for two months. She was able to slide her rent forward during the first shutdown, but Worley was asked to pay when Cooter Brown’s reopened three weeks ago. “I’m still behind two months in rent,” she says. Over the weekend, Worley used Facebook to invite customers to a peaceful protest on Sunday afternoon. “We have no choice but to send our governor a message that singling out bars isn’t going to save the world,” one post reads.

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Jenkins asks Abbott to require masks in Texas as Dallas County reports record 570 coronavirus cases

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins sent a letter to Gov. Greg Abbott asking to implement a mandatory mask requirement for the state as Dallas County reported a record high of 570 coronavirus cases and one death Sunday. The latest death was of an Irving man in his 80s who died at a hospital and had underlying health conditions.

The new numbers bring the county’s totals to 20,165 cases and 352 deaths. The county does not report the number of recoveries. In the letter, dated June 27, Jenkins asked Abbott to reinstitute the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order for 30 days in addition to requiring masks for the state or specific regions. The letter also detailed a list of recommendations made by the Public Health Committee, a group comprised of local epidemiologists, infectious disease doctors, hospital executives and other health experts.

Dallas Morning News - June 26, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: In the Democratic primary runoff for the 3rd Congressional District, we recommend Lulu Seikaly

Voters chose the two strongest and capable candidates in the field to enter the Democratic runoff for the 3rd Congressional District, the U.S. House seat covering Plano, McKinney, Frisco and other parts of Collin County. Our recommendation again narrowly goes to Lulu Seikaly, 34, over Sean McCaffity, 45. Seikaly led McCaffity by just 514 votes in the first election round in March. Both are smart lawyers and self-described progressives, but we found ourselves agreeing with Seikaly that she is a pragmatic progressive. Because of that, we think she would better represent a congressional district with a diversity of political views.

The 3rd District is currently represented by Republican Van Taylor, who will face the Democratic nominee in November. This was once a safely red seat that Democrats hope to turn in a time when many suburban voters are uncomfortable with President Donald Trump. Both Seikaly and McCaffity may be further to the left than many of the constituents they hope to win over. And a significant part of the district remains rock-ribbed Republican. The candidate who best demonstrates an ability to remain independent of the progressive impulses that are steering the Democratic Party now would better represent the area. Both Seikaly and McCaffity support a public health care option, a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants, increased regulations on gun purchases and pushing America toward a total clean energy future.

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Anne Chow, AT&T’s first woman of color CEO in 144 years, adds another groundbreaking role

Less than a year ago, Anne Chow was promoted to CEO of AT&T Business, the telecommunications giant’s $37 billion unit that provides services to nearly 3 million business customers, including nearly all of the world’s Fortune 1000 companies. The 54-year-old daughter of Taiwanese immigrants is the first woman to hold this position and the first woman of color to be named CEO at any AT&T company in its 144-year history. She’s also the corporation’s highest-ranking Asian American. For most mortals, that would be enough precedent to absorb for a while. But then, Chow isn’t like most mortals.

She studied classical piano at The Juilliard School as a child, is the proud mother of two Generation Z daughters, clips coupons, has co-authored a book on unconscious bias and is obsessed with fitness boxing. You might take comfort in knowing that she stinks at golf and can’t sew a button on a shirt. On Friday, Chow became the first female or minority global CEO to chair the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ annual workplace campaign. While Chow is honored to be the standard-bearer for diversity, she says it comes with an obligation. “Those of us who are given the opportunity of being first must ensure that we’re not the only or the last,” she says. Chow shrugs off the suggestion that this is a lot to tackle during her rookie CEO year in the midst of a pandemic, social unrest and the dawn of 5G technology. “As someone who has been so fortunate in my position and in my life, I have an obligation to serve,” Chow says in a Webex interview. “My lifelong journey and mission is to leave this place better from whence I came.”

Dallas Morning News - June 29, 2020

Masks, distance and plastic dividers: Officials will use runoffs as ‘tests’ for November elections

Officials across Texas will start their first major test in holding elections during the COVID-19 pandemic as polls open Monday for early voting in the state’s July 14 primary runoffs. Democrats across the state will decide their nominee for the U.S. Senate, and there are several important GOP runoff races for Congress and the statehouse. Though Secretary of State Ruth R. Hughs, the state’s top elections official, has issued minimum health protocols, the elections will be a dry run for local administrators preparing for the presidential contest, when voter turnout is expected to be much higher and possibly record-breaking.

“We’re saying this is the test election for November,” said Jacquelyn F. Callanen, the Bexar County elections administrator. “This is the preview, and that is really nice because we’ll find out if some things work and some things didn’t work.” Among the state’s safety protocols are requirements to keep voters and poll workers 6 feet apart, make hand sanitizer available to voters and regularly clean surfaces that are frequently touched. But local election administrators say they plan to go beyond the state’s minimum standards. Election officials are working to create safe ways for Texans to vote. In some areas, they will provide masks and face shields to voters who want them, and they are doing their best to reduce the amount of contact needed to vote. “We want every Harris County voter to be able to vote in a way that is safe and efficient and gives them peace of mind that their vote will be counted,” said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins. Dallas County Elections Administrator Toni Pippins-Poole did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

San Antonio Express-News - June 27, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Dist. 23 hopeful’s love for Trump is not reciprocated

In politics, as in life, unrequited love is a tragic thing. In the Republican runoff for the 23rd Congressional District, Raul Reyes Jr. has made it abundantly clear how much he adores President Donald Trump. He has referred to the GOP as the “Trump Republican Party” and put out campaign mailers that could almost fool you into thinking that he, and not Mike Pence, will be Trump’s running mate in November. One mailer features the smiling side-by-side images of Reyes, a retired Air Force officer based in Castroville, and Trump.

“Rely on Reyes,” the ad proclaims, “to fight for Trump, for Texas and for you.” Reyes also has attacked his runoff opponent, former Navy cryptologist Tony Gonzales, for accepting the endorsement of outgoing District 23 Rep. Will Hurd, a fellow Republican who has dared to offer occasional criticisms of Trump. One recent Reyes mailer came to the attention of Trump campaign reps, and the results were not pretty. The ad photoshopped images of Reyes and Trump to create the impression that they’re standing together behind a lectern, with both of them giving the thumbs-up sign. “Raul Reyes fully supports President Trump’s plan to build a strong border wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean,” the mail piece promises.

San Antonio Express-News - June 26, 2020

As Texans try to escape COVID-19 in Big Bend, the virus follows along

It’s 114 degrees in the Chihuahuan Desert but the Texans just keep coming. Typically tourism to Big Bend National Park dwindles in June and July when temperatures reach life-threatening levels. But this year the numbers at the park are climbing along with the temperature, said Tom VandenBerg, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the park. “We are getting a lot more than usual for this time of year,” said VandenBerg, assuming many people are looking for a reprieve from the months of COVID-19 restrictions.

But while many might be looking to escape COVID-19, cases of the virus are skyrocketing in rural Brewster County (pop. 9,200) where the park is located. On June 12, the county had reported just one COVID-19 case for the entire year. A week later that jumped to 24 cases. Thursday, the county reported 76 cases. VandenBerg said park staff is closely watching those numbers. Twice a week they are meeting to make revisions to the park’s re-opening plans. While the park is open, many parts of it remain closed, including the visitor center, the restaurant and The Chisos Mountains Lodge, the only lodging available within the park. Also, campgrounds at the park are being limited to 70 percent capacity and are only available through reservations on the park’s website.

San Antonio Express-News - June 28, 2020

Federal courts in Houston, Galveston close amid surge in COVID-19 cases

Federal district courts in Houston and Galveston have been ordered to close to the public amid a regional surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Lee H. Rosenthal, the chief judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, signed an order Friday closing the Bob Casey Courthouse in Houston and the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse in Galveston, citing the need to protect staff and the public “from exposure to or spread of COVID-19.” The closure begins Monday and continues through July 10. It does not affect remote or virtual proceedings, which the order encourages “when feasible and in the interests of justice.” “During the closure to the public, employees and contractors who enter either the Houston or Galveston courthouses must wear masks or face coverings in public areas and in shared workspaces where safe social distancing is not possible,” Rosenthal wrote.

Houston Chronicle - June 28, 2020

‘It was his everything:’ Longtime Stafford mayor dead at 79

Leonard Scarcella would never forget the date — September 4, 1969 — when, at age 29, he took office as the city of Stafford’s mayor. Scarcella held the post for 50 years, becoming one of the state’s longest tenured mayors, until, on Sunday, he passed at the age of 79. Under his watch, Stafford went through explosive growth and change — and Scarcella’s name became synonymous with the hometown he dedicated decades to serving.

“That was his family; that was the mayor’s whole life,” said Bonny Krahn, who served alongside Scarcella for 42 years as Stafford’s police chief. “It was his everything.” Scarcella, who never married and had no children, lived across the street from City Hall. A city news release said he died “after a brief illness” — it was not COVID-19. As Scarcella grew up, Stafford was a small community, home to many of Italian heritage and surrounded by fields. It felt far then from Houston’s downtown, 20 miles to the northeast. Scarcella attended Texas A&M and got a law degree at the University of Houston. His mom, a school teacher, helped on congressional campaigns — and he caught the political bug. When he became the city’s third ever mayor, Stafford only had a handful of employees, Scarcella recalled in a 2015 interview. “I just felt like Stafford had a lot of potential,” he said then. “They used to call me the kid. Now I’m 75 and I must be the old man.”

Houston Chronicle - June 28, 2020

Willie Nelson joins virtual Texas fundraiser for Joe Biden on Monday

Country music legend Willie Nelson is headlining a virtual Texas fundraiser for former Vice President Joe Biden that will include performances from Robert Earl Keen and speeches by former Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Julián Castro. On social media, Nelson announced the Monday fundraiser that requires people to donate a minimum $250 to join in. It starts at 4:15 p.m.

Nelson has never been afraid of speaking out politically. He’s endorsed many Democratic candidates for the White House and other offices over the years. Two years ago, he endorsed O’Rourke for the U.S. Senate and brought the candidate on stage to play guitar with him during his annual Fourth of July Picnic concert in Austin. “A lot of people seem surprised that I’m backing a candidate, but it ain’t my first rodeo,” Nelson said in a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone. The Biden fundraiser aimed at Texans comes as polls show he is in nearly a dead heat with President Donald Trump. In a new Fox News Poll of 1,001 registered voters in Texas released last week, 45 percent said they would vote for Biden versus 44 percent for Trump.

Bloomberg - June 29, 2020

Chesapeake Energy, one of first to strike it big with fracking in the Barnett Shale, files for bankruptcy

Chesapeake Energy Corp., the archetype for America’s extraordinary shale-gas fortunes, filed for bankruptcy, becoming one of the biggest victims of a spectacular collapse in energy demand from the virus-induced global lockdown. The Oklahoma City-based company filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of Texas.

Chesapeake is partly a victim of its own success — and that of its peers — in extracting gas from shale basins, which contributed to a global glut and weighed on prices. Even before the coronavirus, the company had struggled for years with a heavy debt load accumulated during an earlier period of aggressive expansion. About a decade ago, Chesapeake was a $37.5 billion giant led by the late Aubrey McClendon, a colorful and outspoken advocate for the natural gas industry. It was at the forefront of the fracking revolution that transformed the U.S. oil and gas industry by setting off a scramble for previously untapped shale reserves. The company cut eye-popping checks to Fort Worth businesses and residents as inducements to drill on their land in the Barnett Shale of North Texas, America’s first shale field to hit the big time.

Texas Observer - June 28, 2020

Texas landlords are filing hundreds of illegal evictions

In late April, the landlord at 2929 Dunvale Apartments—a garden-style apartment complex in Midwest Houston with one-bedroom apartments starting at $700 a month—filed to evict six tenants. A month later, seven tenants at Concord at Little York, a three-story complex tucked behind I-45 in North Houston, were hit with eviction filings. Between May 26 and June 17, the property manager at Inwood Grove, a tree-studded property in northwest Houston, filed to evict 17 households. All of these cases appear to be in violation of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which prohibits landlords from filing for eviction at properties that benefit from federal subsidies until July 25.

The CARES Act covers properties with federally backed mortgages as well as any that participate in federal housing assistance programs, including housing choice vouchers or low-income housing tax credits. It also gives renters an additional 30 days, until August 24, to vacate their unit. These protections were intended to stabilize renters impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and to prevent widespread homelessness—since mid-March, 2.5 million Texans have filed for unemployment benefits. But the law did not lay out a mechanism for enforcement, nor did it specify how tenants or landlords could find out if their property was protected. Since the CARES Act went into effect on March 27, landlords in Texas have been violating it with impunity, says Eric Kwartler, a public interest attorney at South Texas College of Law Houston. “The law is not being followed,” he says. “That’s demonstrable.” According to an analysis by Kwartler, of the 3,652 evictions filed in Harris County between March 27 and June 22, at least 368 of those—about 10 percent—appear to be filed in violation of the CARES Act.

KERA - June 28, 2020

Pence visits Dallas, encourages prayer and condemns removal of monuments

Vice President Mike Pence asked the crowd at First Baptist in Dallas today to pray to help the nation weather the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn. Pence comes to North Texas as the region experiences a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. The church limited capacity in the main hall and checked worshippers’ temperatures at the door, and most people wore face coverings, but there was little distance between people in the pews.

Pence congratulated Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, who also attended the service, for his leadership during the pandemic, which the congregation responded to with a standing ovation. “Working with your governor, we will put the health of the people of the Lone Star State first, and every single day, we’ll continue to reclaim our freedom and our way of life, as each day we are one day closer to the day we put this pandemic in the past,” Pence said. On Friday, Abbott rolled back parts of the state’s reopening plan, closing bars once again and limiting restaurant capacity. Two of Pence’s upcoming campaign events in Florida and Arizona were reportedly canceled due to the virus. Pence also used his time onstage to condemn the killing of George Floyd, but he added that the destruction of property seen in some protests, and the pulling down of monuments, would not be tolerated.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 28, 2020

As states expand vote by mail amid COVID, Texas leaders continue their fight against it

The local election news of the last few weeks reminds Lisa Morris of her mom. Gloria Meeks, who lived in the Rolling Hills neighborhood of south Fort Worth, was an entrepreneur with a seemingly endless supply of energy. She operated her own catering company yet found time to cook fiesta dip and Texas King Ranch casserole for her kids and grandkids. She regularly joined a pilot friend on leisurely plane rides in the skies of North Texas and took two cruises almost every year. On top of all that, she was devoted to ensuring the Black community exercised its right to vote. Meeks organized a phone bank for Democratic voters and assisted the elderly with their mail-in ballots during election seasons. “She was just a great lady,” says Democratic Fort Worth Congressman Marc Veasey. “She worked really hard. She liked getting out the vote.”

Then, in August 2006, investigators with the Texas Attorney General’s Office arrived at Meeks’ house. She was drying off from a bath when two male inspectors looked in through her bathroom window, according to a signed declaration. She screamed, and they waited outside to interview her until she got dressed. Meeks was never charged. She was one of many Fort Worth women to experience scrutiny regarding mail-in ballots, and the encounter convinced her the Attorney General’s Office was after her for no reason, leading to difficulty sleeping. Later that year, Meeks had a stroke. Morris says her mother never fully recovered until her death in 2012 at age 75. The situation left Morris with a negative opinion of Greg Abbott, who was Attorney General at the time. “In all honesty, I believe he’s the reason my mother had a stroke,” she said. Morris has been thinking about Abbott as mail-in ballots are again a hot topic in Texas. She wishes the governor would allow all voters to use them in this year’s election. “That’s just my personal opinion, and my mother would feel the same freaking way, if she was here today,” says Morris, an actress who lives in Haslet.

Rivard Report - June 28, 2020

Robert Rivard: Remember the Alamo Master Plan

Amid the worsening coronavirus pandemic and the recession it has triggered in a bitterly partisan election year, it’s easy to forget San Antonio’s $450 million Alamo redevelopment plan. City leaders will need to push anew to keep the five-year effort on track with the state. The master plan represents a complex state-city partnership that will protect the Alamo, a World Heritage site, and redevelop the Alamo Plaza as a historic battle site with the addition of a museum and education center to offer a more complete telling of the site’s centuries-old occupation.

At best, plans to move and restore the Cenotaph, redevelop the plaza, and construct a museum on the site now occupied by buildings that house various amusement and entertainment businesses will be delayed beyond the intended 2024 completion date. At worst, the entire project could be at risk and, like past master plan efforts, could end up unrealized, the victim of petty political squabbles and the absence of strong leadership to keep the project on track. Last Tuesday’s surprise announcement that Alamo Trust CEO Douglass McDonald will not renew his contract when it expires Sept. 30 adds significantly to the challenge ahead. His departure leaves the nonprofit Alamo Trust, overseen by the Texas General Land Office, without a strong visible leader at a time when politics in Austin have repeatedly delayed the first major step in plaza reconstruction: the relocation and restoration of the Cenotaph. The Texas Historical Commission (THC) has stalled approval of the Cenotaph project in multiple meetings since December and will not meet again until September. Sources say Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick is behind the delay, pressuring the THC leadership as part of his continuing campaign against Land Commissioner George P. Bush.

ABC 13 - June 29, 2020

Judge Lina Hidalgo in isolation after potential exposure

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo says she's in self-quarantine after a member of her office tested positive for COVID-19. According to a statement from Hidalgo issued on Sunday, she was potentially exposed to the virus on Monday, June 22. The staff member's positive test results were confirmed over the weekend, and that person is currently self-isolating, according to Hidalgo.

The judge and other staff who were potentially exposed will be tested for COVID-19 and will all self-quarantine for 14 days. According to the statement, Hidalgo has not shown any symptoms. "Given what we have learned, I will be quarantining at home," said the judge. "The reality of it is, there are thousands of residents across Harris County that are increasingly finding themselves in the same position I am in today. There are rising numbers of residents testing positive for this virus, and more and more requiring hospitalization. We are at Threat Level 1 - Red - and I continue to call on everyone to stay home except for essential activities. That is the only way we avoid a crisis in our hospital system and put our community in a position to reopen in a smarter and more sustainable way. We will beat this threat together as a community and I will continue to ensure we are pursuing every option we have to bring this back under control." Hidalgo will continue her duties virtually, and normal county operations will continue without interruption. Most of her staff have already been following work-from-home protocols, read the statement. She said the limited staff working from the office have been consistently wearing masks in the workplace and maintaining social distancing practices.

KSAT - June 29, 2020

Ethics complaint against Texas state senate candidate tossed out days before start of early voting

An ethics complaint against Texas State Senate candidate Xochil Peña Rodriguez has been dismissed days before the start of early voting, according to a copy of the order obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders Wednesday night. The complaint, filed with the Texas Ethics Commission early this year, accused Peña Rodriguez of having inconsistencies in her campaign finance reporting.

Specifically, she was accused of leaving her father’s name off of a number of contributions. State campaign finance records show she accepted $125,000 in loans from her mother, Carolina, between late last August and the day after last Christmas. Peña Rodriguez also repeatedly listed monthly in-kind contributions for a campaign office as also coming from her mother. Peña Rodriguez’s father, Bexar County Justice of the Peace Ciro Rodriguez, was not listed on the contributions. State law prohibits judges from giving contributions to candidates for public office.

Austin American-Statesman - June 28, 2020

Pandemic delayed elections include choice to take on John Cornyn, succeed Kirk Watson

The contest between state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and retired, decorated Air Force helicopter pilot MJ Hegar of Round Rock for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate tops the party’s July 14 runoff election. Early voting begins Monday and continues through July 10.

West was first elected to the Texas Senate in 1992. Hegar has never held elective office but ran a strong race for Congress against U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, in the 31st Congressional District in 2018. They are vying for the chance to go up against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who is seeking a fourth term in the fall. In a fractured field in the March 3 primary, Hegar finished first with 22%, followed by West, with 14.5%. As in any of the runoffs, any voter who did not vote in the Republican primary in March is eligible to vote in the Democratic primary, and vice versa. Some Travis County Democrats can vote in the hotly contested race between Austin attorney Mike Siegel and Austin physician Pritesh Gandhi to face U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, in the 10th Congressional District, which stretches from Northwest Austin to the Houston suburbs.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

George A. Mason and Byron Sanders: Dallas ISD’s unprecedented bond election could transform historic inequities in the city

Dallas Independent School District administrators and trustees are proposing an unprecedented bond election that could ask for as much as $3.7 billion, up to $40 million of which would be used to create social service hubs in and around schools that have been generationally impacted by discrimination. While we can speak only for ourselves, we are faith and education leaders who work in these schools and advocate for them. And we say, it’s time. DISD has proved itself worthy of this leap in urban educational innovation. Improvements in academic outcomes through programs in the schools and policies in the district have had real impact in improving children’s lives.

Gains in early literacy, graduation rates, the number of young people graduating high school with college credit — these are the fruit of bold ideas and an audacity to think differently. Dallas community members have rightly demanded data to compel their support of school reforms. Data have a way of transgressing boundaries. The Community Resource Index, DISD’s newly created data diagnostic tool, points out inequities in neighborhoods across Dallas. The tool takes us beyond what happens in the neighborhood school to what happens in the neighborhood. A healthy learning environment includes economically empowered families, safe communities, healthy food and public transportation, accessible internet connectivity, legal aid and health care, mentors and affordable extracurricular opportunities. All these have long been staples of communities in thriving middle and upper-middle class neighborhoods. Now DISD wants to support learning and propel progress through place-based investment in long-neglected neighborhoods. Some might argue that the district is getting out of its lane, that others — municipal government, businesses, nonprofits — should be doing things like these. Others are addressing such concerns, as best they can. But it will take a concerted, coordinated effort of all parties to accelerate change. Deflecting responsibility or delegating to others changes nothing.

National Stories

Associated Press - June 28, 2020

Trump tweets video with ‘white power’ chant, then deletes it

President Donald Trump on Sunday tweeted approvingly of a video showing one of his supporters chanting “white power,” a racist slogan associated with white supremacists. He later deleted the tweet and the White House said the president had not heard “the one statement” on the video. The video appeared to have been taken at The Villages, a Florida retirement community, and showed dueling demonstrations between Trump supporters and opponents.

“Thank you to the great people of The Villages,” Trump tweeted. Moments into the video clip he shared, a man driving a golf cart displaying pro-Trump signs and flags shouts ’white power.” The video also shows anti-Trump protesters shouting “Nazi,” “racist,” and profanities at the Trump backers. “There’s no question? that Trump should not have retweeted the video and “he should just take it down,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., told CNN’s “State of the Union.” Scott is the only Black Republican in the Senate. “I think it’s indefensible,” he added. Shortly afterward, Trump deleted the tweet that shared the video. White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that “President Trump is a big fan of The Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”

Associated Press - June 29, 2020

Look away, Dixie: Mississippi to lose rebel emblem from flag

Mississippi lawmakers voted Sunday to surrender the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, more than a century after white supremacist legislators adopted the design a generation after the South lost the Civil War. Spectators cheered and applauded after the historic votes in the House and Senate.

Each chamber had broad bipartisan support for the landmark decision. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has said he will sign the bill, and the state flag will lose its official status as soon as he acts. That could happen “in coming days,” said his spokeswoman, Renae Eze. Mississippi has a 38% Black population — and the last state flag with the emblem that’s widely seen as racist. The state faced mounting pressure to change its flag as weeks of international protests against racial injustice in the United States have led to the toppling or removal of Confederate statues and monuments. After an emotional day Sunday, legislators hugged each other — even those on opposing sides.

CNN - June 28, 2020

'Window is closing' for US to get coronavirus under control, Trump's HHS secretary warns

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned Sunday that the "window is closing" for the United States to get the coronavirus pandemic under control, as confirmed cases are surging in a majority of the country and some states are dealing with record numbers of hospitalizations. "Things are very different from two months ago... So it is a very different situation, but this is a very, very serious situation and the window is closing for us to take action and get this under control," Azar told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union."

He suggested that the US is better positioned to handled the pandemic than before, pointing to increased testing, contact tracing, hospital capacity, reserves of personal protective equipment, and advancement toward therapeutics and potential vaccines for the virus. The top health official's message differs from that of President Donald Trump, who seems ready to move on from the still-raging pandemic, and Vice President Mike Pence. At a Friday press briefing by the White House's coronavirus task force, the first in nearly two months, Pence declared that the US had "flattened the curve," painting a rosy picture at odds with reality.

Wall Street Journal - June 29, 2020

Covid-19 drug Remdesivir to cost $3,120 for typical patient on private insurance

Gilead Sciences Inc. detailed its pricing plans for Covid-19 drug remdesivir, saying it will charge U.S. hospitals $3,120 for a typical patient with commercial insurance. The drugmaker on Monday disclosed its pricing plans as it prepares to begin charging for the drug in July. The U.S. has been distributing remdesivir donated by Gilead since the drug was authorized for emergency use in May.

Under the company’s plans, Gilead will charge a higher price for patients with private insurance in the U.S., and a lower price for U.S. government health programs like Medicare and all other developed countries that insure their patients directly. The government price will be $390 per dose or $2,340 per patient for the shortest treatment course and $4,290 for a longer treatment course. Gilead said in the U.S. it will charge nongovernment buyers such as hospitals about $520 per dose, or a third more than the government price, for patients who are commercially insured. That works out to $3,120 for a patient getting the shorter, more common course of treatment, and $5,720 for the longer treatment duration.

CNN - June 28, 2020

Choir of more than 100 people perform without masks at Pence event

A choir of more than 100 people performed without masks at a robustly attended event in Texas at the First Baptist Church on Sunday that featured a speech by Vice President Mike Pence. Nearly 2,200 people attended the "Celebrate Freedom Rally," in the Lone Star State, according to rally organizers, which has seen a severe surge in coronavirus cases since easing restrictions. The venue capacity for the indoor event was close to 3,000 attendees, organizers say.

Throughout the service, the members of the choir sang at full volume, behind an orchestra. Between songs, the choir members put their masks back on when they sat down, according to pool reports from the event. The members of the choir had space between them, but it was not clear if it was the recommended six feet. Face masks at the event were "strongly encouraged," with signs posted around the venue signaling the suggestion. According to pool reports from the event, at least half of the crowd was wearing a face covering, an act which experts say can reduce the transmission of Covid-19 by as much as 50%. Choir rehearsals and performances became a focal point early in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, with an outbreak within a 122-member choir in Washington state becoming the subject of a in-depth report out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the report, 87% of singers that attended rehearsal contracted the deadly virus.

NBC News - June 28, 2020

Police departments face one-two punch: Defund protests and coronavirus

Even before police reform and the defund movement gained steam, the nation's state and local law enforcement agencies were staring down a budgetary threat brought about by COVID-19. Fiscal shortfalls stemming from a steep decline in revenues due to the coronavirus lockdown are hitting police departments in cities large and small, though many localities had sought to keep law enforcement-related cuts to a minimum in comparison with other services. In Seattle, the mayor last week proposed $20 million in police budget cuts to help with COVID-19 revenue losses.

Elsewhere, in cities like Las Vegas and Oklahoma City, police officials told NBC News coronavirus cuts are a pressing concern. Across California, where the revenue hit has been severe statewide, cities were planning on police budget cuts ahead of the protests over George Floyd's death and police brutality. In Turlock, California, the savings measures even included freezing a vacant police chief position. In cities like New York City and Los Angeles, where leaders had sought to keep police budget cuts to a minimum or even boost law enforcement spending amid the coronavirus, local officials are now proposing substantial reductions as a result of the Floyd protests and the activist push for redistributing police funds. Though New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he's not in favor of such a steep cut, a City Council-backed plan to slash $1 billion of police funding is on the table in New York. Similar police budget cuts are under consideration in more than a dozen major cities nationwide in light of the ongoing protest movement.

Los Angeles Times - June 29, 2020

Nicholas Goldberg: Trump’s poll numbers are collapsing. But where will they be in November?

President Trump is collapsing in the polls. His approval rating is in the low 40s and dropping. Nationally, he’s running behind Biden by nine points, according to FiveThirtyEight.com’s average — or by as much as 14 points in the latest Siena College/New York Times poll. He’s losing in key battleground states as well; Biden has substantial leads in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, among other places. If the election were held tomorrow, Trump would almost certainly lose. But the election is not being held tomorrow. And a whole lot can happen in the next four and a half months.

“Early polling was not indicative of what happened in 1976 or of 1968. It was not indicative of 1980 or 1992 or 2016,” said Frank Luntz, a longtime pollster who has worked for Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan, among other clients. “There have been so many cases where the numbers changed in the last days. What early polling does is tell us where we’re headed — but not where we’ll end up.” Consider the Gallup general election poll that gave Michael Dukakis a 17-point lead over George H.W. Bush in late July 1988. That lead evaporated over the months that followed and he was defeated in November. “My advice to any candidate is don’t count on the polls,” Dukakis told me when I called him last week. “Go out and organize in every one of the 50 states and take nothing for granted and keep driving and driving until election day.” Here are some reasons not to count Trump out: The vast majority of incumbent presidents who seek a second term win one (Since the beginning of the 20th century, only five of 20 presidents running for re-election were defeated.) What’s more, Trump, who won against all expectations and predictions in 2016, remains popular among Republicans. And this is a very weird and potentially volatile year, between the pandemic, racial unrest, economic uncertainty and the potential for foreign meddling, voter suppression or other dirty tricks.

June 28, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 27, 2020

Texas reports highest single-day coronavirus case count increase

Texas reported its highest single-day increase in confirmed novel coronavirus cases and Houston-area hospitalizations continued to climb Saturday, though deaths attributed to the virus remained steady as the state grapples with a rapid outbreak. Texas added another 6,263 confirmed cases Saturday, an increase of 4.4 percent that brought the statewide total to 147,374, according to data collected by the Houston Chronicle. Confirmed cases have spiked in the past two weeks, far topping the 1,000 to 2,000 cases typically reported each day before mid-June.

The eight-county Greater Houston area tallied 1,290 more cases Saturday, an increase of 3.3 percent, bringing the region’s total to 40,361. Harris County accounted for 908 of the newly confirmed cases. About 700 patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, occupied intensive care unit hospital beds Saturday in the 25-county region surrounding Houston, according to the SouthEast Texas Regional Advisory Council. The number of regional ICU patients has increased for eight consecutive days, rising by nearly 50 percent. The 25-county region reported 2,042 beds occupied by all ICU patients, the highest total since the pandemic arrived in Houston in March. The number of occupied ICU beds typically has hovered between about 1,700 and 1,950 during that time. The region’s base capacity of ICU beds is 2,202, with a surge capacity of 2,644.

Wall Street Journal - June 28, 2020

Coronavirus cases pass 10 million globally

Coronavirus cases world-wide passed 10 million, and deaths approached half a million, as cases continued to surge in the U.S. and some states took steps to reverse their reopenings. The U.S. recorded more than 42,000 cases Saturday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, lower than the record 45,255 recorded Friday, but the second straight daily total over 40,000. Florida, Texas, California and Arizona have accounted for much of the recent rise in cases, prompting authorities to impose new restrictions in those states and reverse their reopenings. The Trump campaign postponed events Vice President Mike Pence was to appear at Tuesday in Tucson, Ariz., and Thursday in Sarasota, Fla.

Washington state is pushing off its reopening. Gov. Jay Inslee said that the state’s Department of Health is pausing any county in the state from moving to the fourth phase of reopening, citing concerns about continued spread of the virus. The U.S. accounts for more than 25% of the just over 10 million cases world-wide, according to data from Johns Hopkins, which many experts say likely understates the toll of the pandemic. More than 499,000 people have died globally from Covid-19, about 125,000 of them in the U.S. According to the Florida Health Department, the state reported 9,636 cases on Saturday, up from 8,831 cases on Friday and a much lower 4,966 cases on Wednesday. The rate of positive cases has also jumped. On June 13, the rate of positive tests was at 5.36% and has steadily climbed over the past two weeks, registering a positivity rate of above 14% in the past two days.

Politico - June 27, 2020

Trump admits it: He's losing

Donald Trump knows he's losing. The president has privately come to that grim realization in recent days, multiple people close to him told POLITICO, amid a mountain of bad polling and warnings from some of his staunchest allies that he's on course to be a one-term president. Trump has endured what aides describe as the worst stretch of his presidency, marred by widespread criticism over his response to the coronavirus pandemic and nationwide racial unrest. His rally in Oklahoma last weekend, his first since March, turned out to be an embarrassment when he failed to fill the arena.

What should have been an easy interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday horrified advisers when Trump offered a rambling, non-responsive answer to a simple question about his goals for a second term. In the same appearance, the normally self-assured president offered a tacit acknowledgment that he might lose when he said that Joe Biden is “gonna be your president because some people don't love me, maybe." In the hours after the interview aired, questions swirled within his inner circle about whether his heart was truly in it when it comes to seeking reelection. Trump has time to rebound, and the political environment could improve for him. But interviews with more than a half-dozen people close to the president depicted a reelection effort badly in need of direction — and an unfocused candidate who repeatedly undermines himself. “Under the current trajectory, President Trump is on the precipice of one of the worst electoral defeats in modern presidential elections and the worst historically for an incumbent president,” said former Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg, who remains a supporter. Nunberg pointed to national polls released by CNBC and New York Times/Siena over the past week showing Trump receiving below 40 percent against Biden.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 27, 2020

Bud Kennedy: Greg Abbott is a ‘traitor’? Texas is a tyranny? The Texas GOP has a Hate Abbott Club

Gov. Greg Abbott is doing his best to save not only a state but also the Republican Party. With Texas trending purple under an unsteady White House, Abbott can shelter downballot Republicans in November and keep his state from swinging the election to Democrat Joe Biden. Yet a Texas Republican faction has been unmasked as the Hate Abbott Club.

“[Abbott] has shown us exactly who he is, a traitor to liberty and our constitution,” state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, wrote on Twitter Friday. Just because barroom mingling and margaritas aren’t a safe combo right now? And because Texans need to wear face coverings? In a June 19 letter, Stickland and state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, R-Arlington, called mask mandates “tyranny.” (I wonder what they think about businesses requiring shoes or shirts.) Even the Fort Worth Republican Women, once a moderate club but now using social media to promote an outlandish fringe conspiracy, seemed outraged that Republican county commissioners would require scarves, bandannas or masks. “You need to call [Judge Glen Whitley],” the club posted on Facebook and Twitter, launching a phone and email campaign against Republican commissioners the name of “limited government, life and liberty.”

New York Times - June 28, 2020

Russia secretly offered Afghan militants bounties to kill troops, US intelligence says

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter. The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion. The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said. An operation to incentivize the killing of American and other NATO troops would be a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban, and it would be the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Mike Pence heading to Dallas as Texas struggles with coronavirus surge

Vice President Mike Pence is visiting Dallas Sunday, where he’ll join Texas Gov. Greg Abbott for a meeting and news conference on the coronavirus pandemic. He’s also giving remarks at First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas. Pence’s appearance at First Baptist is part of annual patriotic service to “celebrate freedom,” according to church officials. Housing Secretary Ben Carson and Abbott are expected to attend the service.

Pence’s Sunday stroll in Dallas comes as Texas is beset by a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic that health experts warn could cripple hospital systems and stall the economic recovery. Even as COVID-19 cases surge in Texas and many other states, Pence has been optimistic about where the nation stands in its struggle against the virus. At a news conference of the coronavirus task force that he leads, Pence appeared overly positive about the country’s fight against the pandemic. “We slowed the spread. We flattened the curve. We saved lives,” Pence said, though case counts in Texas and other states show he’s incorrect. Health experts and national and local Democrats have criticized President Donald Trump and Abbott’s handling of the pandemic.

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: We went inside Parkland’s COVID unit during its ‘worst week’ as coronavirus cases spike in North Texas

The critically ill patients in Parkland’s COVID-19 Tactical Care Unit couldn’t wear masks even if they wanted to. They each have a plastic tube jammed down their throats, straight to their lungs. The other end of each tube coils like a translucent snake, tethering the inert form in the bed to a gleaming machine — and, with luck, to life. It’s eerily quiet on this long, open ward and the 30 patients on ventilators seem frozen in place. They’re unconscious, sedated with powerful drugs, in part to prevent them from ripping out the lines that are keeping them alive.

Not one would hesitate for a nanosecond to trade the invasive plastic tubes for the masks that we, breathing free on the outside, get to wear. Not the 52-year-old man in one bed or his 77-year-old mother a few beds down. Not the man who went on a ventilator Friday night or the one who has been on a machine for more than two months. In this low-ceilinged space, crammed full of a maze of medical equipment, the two rows of beds stretch farther than you want to look. Many of the intubated patients lie on their stomachs to make breathing easier. On one man’s back lie a rosary, a cross and a prayer card, placed there by the staff at the family’s request. On another is a pocket prayer shawl with the words “May you be reminded of God’s unending love for you.”

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Royce West in the Democratic primary runoff for U.S. Senate

State Sen. Royce West sports a long and impressive legislative record that makes him the better choice over MJ Hegar in the Democratic primary runoff for the U.S. Senate. West, 67, is an experienced state legislator who has represented District 23 in Austin since 1993. Despite being a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Legislature, West has worked across the aisle successfully to produce wins for Texans. West was the impetus behind the creation of the University of North Texas at Dallas and a new law school in downtown Dallas. Over the years, he has championed funding for at-risk youth programs, sought greater compensation to victims of violent crime, and improved child care standards. He pushed legislation for dash cams in patrol cars and helped law enforcement agencies find dollars to purchase body-worn cameras.

As the nation begins to recognize the inequities that permeate the criminal justice system, West, who was Dallas County’s first African American chief prosecutor in the early 1980s, has much to offer to this national discussion. For example, West has said that he would introduce legislation that would punish law enforcement agencies and officers if they fail to turn over all evidence when they submit cases to prosecutors. In recent months, questions have surfaced over whether West used his influence to support a plan by his son Rodderick to build soccer fields under Interstate-345 in Dallas. In a recent interview with the editorial board, West categorically denied any involvement in his son’s project or attempt to influence the Dallas City Council and state transportation officials to back the plan. West said he favors keeping I-345 in place to provide transportation for residents and that has nothing to do with his son’s project.

Dallas Morning News - June 26, 2020

‘It’s just unbelievable’: Bar owners in Texas are forced to close for a second time during pandemic

Gov. Greg Abbott ordered all bars in Texas to shut their doors at noon Friday and for restaurants to cut back to 50% of capacity to curb the spread of the new coronavirus as cases spike across the state. For some bar owners in North Texas, it felt like déjà vu, as this is the second time in less than four months that watering holes have been forced to lock up. “I’m kind of laughing because I’m trying not to be hysterically upset. It’s just unbelievable,” said Kim Finch, owner of the Dallas bars Double Wide and Single Wide. She’s also in the middle of building a new bar called Thunderbird Station. Texas bars, which were ordered closed on March 16, were allowed to reopen on May 22 at 25% of capacity. Then they were allowed to expand to 50% of capacity on June 3.

The new temporary closure of all bars in Texas was a sweeping move after state officials reported that 11.76% of tests for the virus had come back positive in a seven-day period, up significantly from May’s numbers of under 5%. Case numbers in Dallas County are also climbing, with a new one-day record of 496 on Thursday. Double Wide and Single Wide reopened only a week ago. Finch had chosen to keep the bars closed longer than required, saying she didn’t want to hurry. “We just wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing,” she said. “And then money ran out; we kind of had to open.” She even hired a construction crew to put a roll-up garage door on her bar to allow covered seating in what used to be a music venue at the Double Wide. She also purchased two fogger machines to sanitize the bars — “and we don’t need those right now,” she said. “Every day, we make a plan. And every day, it changes,” Finch said.

Dallas Morning News - June 26, 2020

U.S. Supreme Court declines Texas Democrats’ initial request to allow expanded mail voting during pandemic

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday rejected the Texas’ Democrats initial request to allow expanded mail voting during the COVID-19 global pandemic. The Texas Democratic Party had asked the court to vacate a stay by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which would have let stand a lower court ruling that essentially all Texans should be allowed to vote by mail. The Supreme Court rejected that request, meaning that the state’s usual limitations on mail voting will be in place for the July 14 primary runoffs. Early voting for those elections begins Monday — even as new COVID-19 cases across the state reach record highs, and the state has begun to limit business operations to slow the spread.

Democrats urged the court to take up the case before the November presidential election if it rejected its request to vacate the appeals court’s order. The Supreme Court may still take up the case in its new term, which begins in October, and at least one justice said that the appeals court should consider the matter more carefully before the presidential election. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a Barack Obama appointee, said that the case raises “weighty but seemingly novel questions regarding the Twenty-Sixth Amendment,” which prevents age discrimination in voting. The Democrats have argued that Texas’ election law discriminates against those under 65 by not allowing them the right to vote by mail that those over that age are extended. “I do not disagree with the decision to refrain from addressing them for the first time here, in the context of an emergency application to vacate a stay of an injunction,” Sotomayor said. “But I hope that the Court of Appeals will consider the merits of the legal issues in this case well in advance of the November election.”

Dallas Morning News - June 28, 2020

In this heated North Texas Democratic congressional runoff, it’s about resume vs. life experience

Democratic voters in North Texas’ 24th Congressional District next month will select the woman — Retired Col. Kim Olson or former school board member Candace Valenzuela — they want to challenge Republican Beth Van Duyne in one of the fall’s most highly anticipated congressional contests. The decision between Olson and Valenzuela is punishing for many Democrats who see both women as capable of beating Van Duyne, the former Irving mayor endorsed by President Donald Trump. The ultimate goal, Democrats sandwiched between Dallas and Fort Worth have said all year, is flipping the seat that has been occupied by Rep. Kenny Marchant for eight terms.

Marchant is one of several Texas Republicans retiring from Congress this year as the state becomes more competitive for Democrats. Marchant easily won his seat 16 years ago but narrowly beat his Democratic opponent in 2018 by just three points. Local and national Democrats see the seat as theirs for the taking and a key component of keeping their majority in the U.S. House. “We all feel like we’ve been in a holding pattern and we’re waiting for the choice to be made,” said Angie Hetisimer, a Tarrant County precinct chair and member of Indivisible Grapevine, which works to help elect progressive candidates. “I think for me and most of the people I talk to, we just want 24 to flip. Luckily we have two fantastic candidates.” Given there is little light between Olson and Valenzuela on policy -- both fluctuate between moderate and progressive on different questions but would be reliable votes for the Democratic agenda in Washington -- the election is largely framed as a decision between Olson’s extensive resume and Valenzuela’s biography. Olson was one of America’s first female fighter pilots. And if elected, Valenzuela will be the first Afro-Latina member of Congress. The district, which includes Grapevine, Irving and Southlake, has become increasingly diverse during the last decade putting the question of who best represents the district’s population at the center of the debate.

Houston Chronicle - June 27, 2020

A pipeline poisons the wells in Hill Country

It began without warning on the afternoon of March 29. Physician Teri Albright was making sun tea at her Hill Country ranch, expecting that when she put the pitcher under the kitchen faucet she’d see her pristine well water bubbling out of it. Instead, it looked like chocolate milk. She ran to the other faucets. Same thing with the shower, the toilets, the hose outside: sludge. She and her husband, also a medical doctor, had bought their ranch along the banks of the Blanco River to enjoy the scenery and solitude. It’s where they wanted to grow old together and spoil the grandkids.

When Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan announced plans in 2018 to build a natural gas pipeline nearby, Albright said she felt “stomach sick.” Their plans didn’t include watching construction crews cut through limestone and rip out 100-year-old live oak trees. She worried an explosion might kill them all. Neighbors protested, warning about disturbing the Hill Country’s “karst” features — which include vast underground caves and channels that hold and carry their groundwater. “We have a very good plan in place to address the uniqueness of the karst features in the Hill Country,” said Kinder Morgan’s Allen Fore, vice president for public affairs, at a Kerrville Rotary Club meeting in January. “We will not be impacting the aquifer.” But months later, that is precisely what happened.

Houston Chronicle - June 28, 2020

Vanessa Guillen family asks Sen. Cruz intervention after ‘been played’ by Army

The family of Houston soldier Vanessa Guillen said they requested U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz open a congressional investigation into her disappearance from Fort Hood after accusing military leaders of a cover-up. Natalie Khawam, the lawyer of Guillen’s family, said she spoke with Cruz on Thursday to formally request a Senate inquiry after a “disconcerting” meeting Tuesday with leaders of the Army base, where Guillen was posted. The family said they had high expectations that the meeting, arranged with U.S. Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, would answer at least some of their questions about Guillen’s disappearance. Instead, they say it only reinforced their distrust of the military post leadership.

“The base command did not provide us with the information that they promised us. They were not forthcoming, they were not transparent, they said things that didn’t occur,” Khawam said. “We didn’t get anything from them, we have been played and now we need a congressional investigation.” Cruz, R-Texas, did not respond to requests for comment on whether he would pursue a congressional investigation. A representative of his office attended the Tuesday meeting. A spokesman for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command insists that the agency is investigating all leads. “We are doing everything possible to find Pfc. Vanessa Guillen and are aggressively investigating all leads, as we have been doing consistently since April 22 when she disappeared,” said Chris Grey, CID’s chief of public affairs. Gray said investigators have information about the case that they cannot share with the public, to protect the integrity of the investigation. During a news conference after the meeting Tuesday, the soldier’s mother, Gloria Guillen, gave an emotional speech, vigorously criticizing how the base handled the investigation. She blamed the base leadership for not closing the compound and doing a thorough search as soon as it was clear that Guillen was missing.

Houston Chronicle - June 26, 2020

No mask mandate at July GOP convention leaves Houston hospitality workers uneasy

The Texas Republican Convention remains on track to take place in downtown Houston next month, and the state party is not planning to impose a mask requirement on attendees, despite a recent surge in local COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. On a call with party members earlier this week, Texas GOP chairman James Dickey said he does not interpret Harris County’s mask order to cover the convention, which is set to take place July 16-18 at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The mandate compels businesses to require their customers to wear face masks.

Assistant Harris County Attorney Robert Soard said his office is reviewing the matter. The mask order is set to expire at the end of June, though County Judge Lina Hidalgo has hinted that she intends to extend it. Hidalgo on Friday moved the county to the highest threat level on a COVID-19 scale that she unveiled earlier this month and called for a return to stay-at-home conditions. The situation has created what union leaders say is a potentially perilous situation for workers at the Hilton Americas-Houston hotel, which is connected to the convention center and expects to see an uptick in guests during the convention. Officials from Unite Here Local 23, the union that represents hotel and other hospitality workers, say health insurance benefits are set to expire for Hilton workers at the end of the month, since many of them were laid off at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving them short of the hours needed to qualify for coverage. Houston First Corp., the city’s convention arm, owns the Hilton Americas-Houston and operates the George R. Brown Convention Center.

Houston Chronicle - June 28, 2020

Hidalgo urges Harris County, now at highest threat level, to stay home as COVID-19 surges

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo on Friday moved the county to the worst threat level, calling for a return to the stay-at-home conditions of March and April, as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to spike. She also banned outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people in unincorporated Harris County, while urging mayors to do the same in their cities. Hidalgo described in dire terms the danger the pandemic currently poses and said the county is at greater risk than at any other time since the outbreak began here in March.

“Today we find ourselves careening toward a catastrophic and unsustainable situation,” Hidalgo said. “Our current hospitalization rate is on pace to overwhelm the hospitals in the near future.” Her remarks were a rebuke of Gov. Greg Abbott’s phased reopening strategy, which she said allowed Texans to resume normal life before they were safe. They also contradicted the rosy picture Texas Medical Center executives painted a day earlier of the system’s ICU capacity. Hidalgo unsuccessfully lobbied the governor this week for the power to issue more restrictions, her office confirmed. Abbott’s refusal to let local officials again issue mandatory stay-at-home orders leaves Harris County “with one hand tied behind our back,” she said. A spokesman for Abbott did not respond to a request for comment.

Houston Chronicle - June 26, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Harold V. Dutton, Jr. in Democratic runoff for House District 142

The state intervention in the Houston Independent School District may have been put on hold by the courts, but it continues to be the central reason why longtime state legislator Harold V. Dutton Jr. is facing his first competitive opposition from within his own party in decades. Dutton, who has served in the Legislature since 1985, faces a formidable runoff opponent in Jerry Davis, who as District B City Councilman represented many of the same areas in Texas House District 142, including Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens and Trinity/Houston Gardens. The term-limited councilman said he would focus on workforce development, health care and education. While Davis brings energy and a passion to serve his constituents, Dutton’s experience in Austin and his strong record put him over the top.

The 75-year-old legislator has passed laws that restored the right to vote to ex-felons, helped launch Texas’ annual sales tax holiday, supported women- and minority-owned businesses, protected home buyers from fraud in the use of contracts for deeds and stopped redlining by insurance companies. House Bill 1842, spearheaded by Dutton in 2015 and approved with overwhelming support, set the district on a collision course with the state over chronically failing schools. We wish Dutton’s legislation had allowed otherwise strong districts more flexibility in addressing campuses with long histories of failure. But we are convinced he was acting in good faith to force accountability, and his authorship of this one bill is not enough reason to forget years of accomplishment, nor the advantages that his seniority in the Legislature confers.

San Antonio Current - June 25, 2020

Study: 2 million Texans could lose health coverage if AG Ken Paxton wins at Supreme Court

Two million Texans stand to lose medical coverage if the White House and Republican state attorneys general convince the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act, according to a new study. An analysis by the Center for American Progress think tank found that a high court decision to kill off the Obama-era law would strip 23.3 million Americans of health insurance. Texas accounts for the second-largest share of that total behind California, where 4.2 million people would be affected.

The Trump administration and state AGs including Texas' Ken Paxton are expected to file arguments Thursday asking the high court to dismantle the ACA, frequently referred to as "Obamacare." The filings come as COVID-19 infections slip out of control in states including Texas and Florida and as millions of people lose health coverage from their employers due to the pandemic's economic fallout.

ProPublica - June 25, 2020

He removed labels that said “Medical Use Prohibited,” then tried to sell thousands of masks to officials who distribute to hospitals

Lucas Rensko was making money through a popular handyman-for-hire app called TaskRabbit, doing odd jobs and delivering groceries, when he picked up a task that led him to a leaky-roofed warehouse on a tattered road in northwest San Antonio. Inside, a man named Jaime Rivera had set up long tables where five or six other “Taskers” earning about $20 an hour were ripping Chinese masks out of plastic bags and stuffing them into new ones that were identical but for one potentially deadly difference. The old packages were labeled in all caps “MEDICAL USE PROHIBITED,” meaning not to be used by doctors and nurses who need the strongest protection from tiny particles carrying the novel coronavirus. The new bags, intended to make their way to Texas hospitals, simply omitted that warning. This seemingly small deception highlights a huge problem for medical workers whose best defense against a virus that ravages the body with horrifying complexity is a simple, but trustworthy, mask. That trust has eroded as Chinese-made masks claiming, sometimes falsely, to be 95% effective at filtering virus-laden particles made their way into hospitals and now local convenience stores. You might have bought them: KN95s.

Texas officials have tried to block ineffective masks from making their way to hospitals with screenings and by rejecting anything labeled as non-medical, yet at the same time, the mysterious brokers sourcing millions of masks were working hard to evade those safeguards. The operation Rensko witnessed had the potential to push faulty masks into the Texas supply chain just as Gov. Greg Abbott eased lockdown restrictions and COVID-19 infections began to soar. “He kind of takes us on this tour of his facility, which is essentially a shelled out warehouse,” Rensko, 36, told me over the phone, detailing how Rivera described the work at the warehouse. “He was saying they were designated for personal or residential use, not for medical. And so what he was doing was basically putting them into other packaging where the city of San Antonio and the state of Texas are able to look at them and then sell them for medical purposes.” Rensko knew something wasn’t quite right and walked away from the TaskRabbit gig. He told his wife, who told a friend, who told another friend, who told me. Over weeks of reporting, I’d learn that Rensko had scratched the surface of a larger scheme involving a Silicon Valley investor named Brennan Mulligan to sell what Texas health officials later flagged as “fraudulent” masks to the agency directing protective equipment to hospitals.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - June 24, 2020

Masks optional at Texas GOP state convention, despite Abbott face-covering encouragement

The Texas Republican State Convention, which is projected to have about 2,000 more delegates and alternates than the party's planned national gathering, is continuing as a live event next month in Houston with no mandate that participants wear masks. Texas GOP Chairman James Dickey said Wednesday there will be "no mask shaming" for those who chose to cover the faces to avoid any coronavirus spread. But no one will be required to wear one even though Republican Gov. Greg Abbott this week strongly encouraged all Texans to wear masks in public as a way to help tame the renewed surge in COVID-19 cases statewide.

"As I've said all along, people are welcome to wear masks if they wish and they're welcome not to wear masks," Dickey said in an interview. "We encourage everyone to take precautions they feel they need to when it comes to masks, just like you should with hand sanitizer and social distancing guidelines." Republicans will gather July 16-18 in Houston at the George R. Brown Convention Center where they will adopt the state party's platform, party rules and other business in advance of the national convention. The event remains unsettled as the coronavirus pandemic continues. On Monday, faced with fast-rising COVID-19 cases across Texas and warnings that hospital capacity could be strained, Abbott stopped well short of saying he would order a statewide masking policy. But he did note that local authorities can require businesses to adopt mask-wearing mandates, and he strongly encouraged their use in public.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 26, 2020

Here’s what swayed Fort Worth and Tarrant County to require COVID-19 masks

Tarrant County joined Texas’ other major urban counties Thursday when it ordered businesses to require that people wear a mask — a measure available to local authorities for at least a week that epidemiologists say dramatically reduces the spread of coronavirus. The slower move on masks follows a trend seen during the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak when Tarrant County was one of the last heavily populated counties to enact a stay-at-home order, a tactic one city councilwoman blamed for the region’s high case rate.

Fort Worth’s elected leaders for more than a week preached personal responsibility, saying they did not want to require masks as Bexar, Dallas, Travis, Harris and other heavily urban centers told businesses that employees and customers must wear masks. When it became clear people would not take it upon themselves to wear protective face coverings, and after Tarrant County reported nearly 1,000 new cases in two days, Judge Glen Whitley issued a county order requiring them in businesses and outdoor gatherings larger than 100. The mandate signed by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price includes a $500 fine for those in violation. Whitley had said repeatedly he didn’t want to require masks because he thought Texans would reject heavy handedness. On Wednesday, when the county reported 460 cases, he said the growing number of patients worried him, but he wasn’t ready to commit to regulation. Rather than look solely at positive tests, Whitley has also considered the number of hospitalizations, which grew by 62% in the last two weeks, he said.

Austin American-Statesman - June 26, 2020

Proposed tax breaks for Tesla ‘gigafactory’ draw mixed reaction

The prospect of offering California-based electric vehicle maker Tesla tens of millions of dollars in local tax breaks to build a $1 billion factory in Travis County is either a shrewd investment that will be a game changer for the region’s economy or a misguided giveaway to a rich corporation run by a billionaire.

Those were the dueling narratives that emerged during two public hearings, both held remotely — one by the Travis County Commissioners Court last Tuesday, and the other by the Del Valle school board Thursday evening. Neither jurisdiction has voted on an incentive package. The item is on the Commissioners Court agenda for this Tuesday, but commissioners might not take a vote. “It will depend if Tesla and the county staff have come to an agreement on their negotiations and if the court wants to take action,” county spokesman Hector Nieto said Friday. The Del Valle school district could grant $50 million in property tax breaks for Tesla over 10 years. Travis County is considering a package that would give about $14.7 million in property tax rebates over 10 years.

Austin American-Statesman - June 27, 2020

Gov. Abbott waives law so some businesses can deliver or sell mixed drinks to go, officials say

Gov. Greg Abbott on Saturday temporarily waived a law so that some Texas restaurants and bars can deliver or sell mixed drinks to go, according to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. TABC officials said Saturday that Abbott’s decision to allow limited mixed drink sales followed his executive order Friday that forced bar owners to shut down again in Austin. Abbott’s decision Friday came after a record-breaking week of coronavirus cases in Texas.

However, the new statutory waiver approved by Abbott on Saturday allows restaurants and certain bars with mixed beverage permits to sell mixed drinks if accompanied by a food order. For bars to qualify, they must have permanent food service capabilities on the premises, officials said. “Operating during this pandemic has proved an incredible challenge for all segments of the alcoholic beverage industry,” TABC Executive Director Bentley Nettles said. “Opening up the ability for these businesses to sell mixed drinks to go will help ease the burden for many of these struggling businesses.” Under the waiver, businesses may sell drinks containing distilled spirits if mixed and sealed by the business itself, officials said. Mixed drinks to go were previously prohibited under the Alcoholic Beverage Code, but the governor’s action temporarily waives that law. Authorities on Saturday reminded residents that it’s a criminal offense to knowingly possess an open container in a vehicle, so all mixed drink sales must be in a closed or sealed container.

San Antonio Express-News - June 26, 2020

San Antonio health director resigns as region sees coronavirus surge

Dawn Emerick has resigned from her position as director of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District less than five months after she arrived here, leaving a void in leadership as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations surge in Bexar County. Emerick’s last day will be July 3.

“These are very extraordinary and unpredictable times and for many families, it’s even been a bit traumatizing,” Emerick wrote in her resignation letter. “There is nothing more important than our physical and mental safety, security and well-being.” Emerick showed exasperation Tuesday while discussing a backlog in test results amid the surge in new cases. “I’m angry, I’m tired and it shouldn’t be this way,” an emotional Emerick said at a daily city-county briefing. On Wednesday, she retweeted a Washington Post story about how leaders of health departments across the country are stepping down. “Executive leaders are not the only people experiencing this external and internal pressure,” Emerick wrote in the tweet. “It’s wreaking havoc on staff throughout the entire system regardless of pay grade.”

McAllen Monitor - June 27, 2020

Businesses under social media microscope amid outcry for virus transparency

As cases in the Rio Grande Valley continue to soar with record highs reported in almost consecutive days, concerns are also mounting with regard to local businesses who don’t disclose to the public whether their employees contracted the coronavirus. In addition to discourse about how much information businesses can disclose about whether employees test positive for the coronavirus, concerns remain prevalent on social media where employees and consumers have criticized local restaurants for not closing or encouraging curbside services instead of dine-in.

Such criticism stems from fears of positive cases existing at certain establishments. Businesses in Hidalgo County, however, are under no obligation to disclose that employees have tested positive for COVID-19, county officials have said. There are also federal medical privacy protections that prohibit employers from identifying or sharing health information about employees. But this hasn’t stopped residents from demanding transparency from local businesses they fear may have cases of coronavirus. Through social media, concerned citizens have speculated about businesses with employees who contracted the virus not telling customers. One employee of a McAllen wings restaurant, who spoke under anonymity for fear of termination, said employees did not show up to work due to management refusing to tell their customers that they had three employees test positive. According to the employee, the owner of the McAllen restaurant knew an employee was in contact with someone who tested positive for the virus, but did not disclose that information to the staff.

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - June 27, 2020

Rig count just one piece of energy’s economic picture

For 80 years, the weekly rig count provided by the Baker Hughes service company has been used to gauge the financial health of the oil and gas industry. But today that rig count may not be the most reliable barometer of the industry, according to a report just released by the data analytics company Enverus. The rig count once was the most tangible piece of data regarding oil field activity, according toRob McBride, senior director of strategy and analytics at the Austin-based company.

“(But) for how much production there is or will be the future, it’s not as reliable an indicator,” he said in a phone interview. That’s because of the advances in drilling technology that have improved both efficiency and productivity, McBride said. The May rig count fell 670 rigs, or 66 percent, since March, implying a dramatic drop in output. But that statistic doesn’t offer insight into which wells have been shut in and taken offline, drilled but not completed, or pipeline data, for example, needed for a more complete picture, McBride said. Having a more complete picture is impactful to anyone in the energy market -- an oil and gas operator, an oil trader or energy consumer, he said. “Whether it’s for speculation or business planning, they need a view of the future a day from now, a week from now, six months from now, a year from now,” McBride said. “They need to look at the entire forward curve to decide where and when they can make an economic rate of return,” he said. “They need a sense of what supply will be in the future, where demand will be.”

County Stories

CBS 11 - June 27, 2020

‘STAY HOME’: Bexar residents receive emergency alert regarding COVID-19 surge

Residents in one Texas county received an emergency alert about COVID-19, urging them to stay home and avoid gatherings. The alert was sent out to residents in Bexar County (San Antonio area) on Saturday as it reported a record-high 795 new cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing its total to 9,652.

The alert read: “STAY HOME. The COVID-19 virus is spreading rapidly across Bexar County. Local hospitals are approaching capacity. Protect yourself and your family. Stay home except for essential activities, wear a face covering and avoid gathering with people outside your household. STAY SAFE.” Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, sent out a tweet about the alert he received and blasted Gov. Greg Abbott and President Donald Trump on their response to the virus. Texas has seen a surge in new cases recently during the reopening process. However, Abbott halted any further reopening phases earlier this week. On Friday, Abbott issued an order that shut down bars for the second time during the pandemic. Restaurants were also ordered to go back to a 50% limited capacity, down from 75%.

Houston Chronicle - June 27, 2020

Harris County young adults contracted COVID-19 at higher rates over the past month, leading to a massive spike

Peyton Chesser played it safe for weeks, rarely leaving her apartment even as she her peers venturing to gyms and flocking to bars in Houston’s midtown. Eventually, she caved. The 23-year-old law student attended one class at her cycle studio, and she developed COVID-19 symptoms just two days later. The diagnosis turned Chesser into another case in a growing trend: Harris County’s young adults contracted COVID-19 at higher rates than all other age groups over the past month, leading to a massive spike in coronavirus cases that has sprung the area into its highest “Code Red” threat level.

The number of reported coronavirus cases has tripled in Harris County since mid-May. People 20 to 29 made up nearly a quarter of all new cases, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of Harris County Public Health data. That group now comprises more than a fifth of the county’s total confirmed cases, up from a little more than 16 percent on May 15. People aged 30 to 39 made up roughly the same amount, making those two age groups the largest drivers of the increase — mirroring state and national trends that place younger people at the center of the dramatic surge. Chesser lamented that she might have picked up the disease the first time she went to a non-essential business — it wasn’t worth it, she said. But she doesn’t fault the studio, and she finds it hard to blame millennials when it is legal to enter the establishments that they frequent. “You can’t allow the state’s leadership and government to say that something is all right to do ... and then get upset with them for doing what they were allowed to do,” she said. “They failed people.”

McAllen Monitor - June 27, 2020

Hidalgo County mayors maneuver for more pandemic authority

The mayors of Hidalgo County’s largest four cities came together here at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance on Friday in a bid to pave the way for a more active municipal role in Texas’ response to the coronavirus pandemic. Mayors Jim Darling of McAllen, Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez of Pharr, Richard Molina of Edinburg and Armando O’Caña of Mission all signed a letter outlining their desire for more pandemic autonomy and addressed it to the governor.

Specifically, the mayors petitioned for the ability to create local size restrictions on gatherings and to decide locally whether to enforce mask wearing and how to enforce it, framing those desires against the backdrop of the Rio Grande Valley’s dramatic uptick in COVID-19 cases over the last month. “We had a little bit of control of it, now it’s getting out of control, and I echo the sentiment of my colleagues, that we need to have local control in order for us to be able to deal with it,” Hernandez said before the signing. Darling said municipalities bear the brunt of enforcing and interpreting orders meant to reduce the spread of COVID-19. “When people have questions, they call us,” Darling said. “They don’t call the state of Texas. If they do call the county, and if the county says, ‘What city are you from?’ they refer them back to our city. And yet we’re tasked with interpreting state and countywide orders that we don’t write, and we don’t participate in their preparation, but yet we’re responsible primarily for their interpretation, and to a limited situation, to enforcement.”

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - June 26, 2020

Austin schools suspend Black students nearly 5 times as often as white students

As the nation focuses on racism in police departments after the death of George Floyd and widespread protests, similar conversations are happening in local school districts, where Black students are more likely to be suspended, charged with crimes for misbehavior and expelled. Black students were suspended at nearly five times the rate of white students in the Austin school district in the 2018-19 school year, according to records obtained by the American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act. These statistics mirror regional and national numbers that have for years shown racial inequality in suspension rates in schools.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights released data in 2014 showing that Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students in the United States. The data obtained by the Statesman show that disparity in the Austin district in recent years has been even greater. In the 2018-19 school year, when the Austin district gave 2,599 out-of-school suspensions, 7.4% of the district’s Black students were suspended, compared with 3.6% percent of Hispanic students and 1.5% of white students. That’s similar to the 2017-18 school year, when the district gave out-of-school suspensions to 8.2% of Black students, 3.9% of Hispanic students and 1.6% of white students. Numbers from across the state also show racial disparities. According to the Texas Education Agency, administrators suspended 20.7% of the state’s 685,775 Black students in the 2018-19 school year, 7.7% of its 2.9 million Latino students and just 4.1% of its 1.5 million white students.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 27, 2020

‘Dee’ Davis, daughter of 1976 Fort Worth mansion shooting victim, dies in Dallas crash

The sorrow carries on. Angela Davis, the daughter of a woman who was shot by a man in a black wig at a southwest Fort Worth mansion on a night in August 1976 when two others were killed, died Thursday in a car crash in Dallas County, authorities said.

Davis, known as Dee, was 61. Slain in one of the city’s most infamous crimes were Andrea Wilborn, the 12-year-old daughter of Dee’s mother, Priscilla, and Stan Farr, Priscilla Davis’ live-in boyfriend. Priscilla Davis was shot once in the chest and survived, and Gus “Bubba” Gavrel Jr., a chance visitor to the mansion off South Hulen Street, was left paralyzed by a bullet in his spine. He has since died. Dee Davis was not at the mansion when the killings occurred. Priscilla Davis insisted from the outset that the gunman, who wore a black wig, was her estranged husband, Cullen Davis, a multimillionaire who was then one of the richest men in America.

National Stories

NPR - June 26, 2020

Judge orders ICE to free detained immigrant children because of COVID-19

Citing the unrelenting spread of the coronavirus, a federal judge has ordered that all children currently held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody for more than 20 days must be released by July 17. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee of California issued the scathing order Friday afternoon, saying the Trump administration had failed to provide even the most basic health protections for children and their families amid the pandemic. She described the ICE-operated facilities as being "on fire," adding that "there is no more time for half measures."

"Although progress has been made, the Court is not surprised that [COVID-19] has arrived at both the [Family Residential Centers] and [Office of Refugee Resettlement] facilities, as health professionals have warned all along," Gee wrote. The order applies to all three of the family detention facilities in the United States. Two are located in Texas, and a third is in Pennsylvania, as well as shelters housing unaccompanied minors. As of Thursday, at least 11 people at a family detention center in Karnes City, Texas, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to an independent report filed with the court. Four employees at another facility in Dilley — about 90 miles away — have also tested positive for the coronavirus, and test results for residents there remain pending. Meanwhile, an independent monitor and a physician who inspected ICE's family detention centers reported this month that given the infection rates in the counties where the Texas facilities are located, there is "even more cause for concern."

NPR - June 28, 2020

One Of Democrats' top Senate recruits stumbles amid protests

Colorado voters could well decide this fall which party controls the U.S Senate. But first, on Tuesday voters will pick the Democrat to challenge GOP Sen. Cory Gardner. Former Gov. John Hickenlooper is the national party's first choice for the nomination, but his campaign has hit some snags in recent weeks. He was a two-term governor, former mayor of Denver and had a short-lived presidential bid. The other name on the ballot is former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff, who is less well-known in Colorado and running to the left as the more progressive candidate. Romanoff has unsuccessfully run for Congress twice before.

Among the first-time voters watching these candidates is 18-year-old Emma Tang of Colorado Springs. Earlier in the race, she volunteered for one of the two Black women who had been running for Senate in what had been a crowded, diverse field of mostly female candidates. "At this point, I'm just so torn that my conscience doesn't want me to vote for either candidate," Tang said. As a child of Taiwanese immigrants, Tang said she doesn't support Romanoff's endorsement of a tough immigration law earlier in his career, back in 2006. He has since apologized, but she said she doesn't think he's done enough to rectify it. As for Hickenlooper, she said she thinks he's run a sloppy campaign. She sees him as too soft on the environment and has concerns about his answer to a question in a racial justice forum during the height of the George Floyd protests in Denver.

Associated Press - June 28, 2020

Mississippi takes step toward dropping rebel image from flag

Spectators at the Mississippi Capitol broke into cheers and applause Saturday as lawmakers took a big step toward erasing the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, a symbol that has come under intensifying criticism in recent weeks amid nationwide protests against racial injustice. “The eyes of the state, the nation and indeed the world are on this House,” Republican Rep. Jason White told his colleagues. On the other end of the Capitol, Sen. Briggs Hopson declared: “Today, you — Mississippi — have a date with destiny.”

Mississippi has the last state flag with the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. Many see the emblem as racist, and the flag has been divisive for generations in a state with a 38% Black population. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves said Saturday for the first time that he would sign a bill to change the flag if the Republican-controlled Legislature sends him one. He previously said he would not veto one — a more passive stance. “The argument over the 1894 flag has become as divisive as the flag itself and it’s time to end it,” Reeves said. On Saturday, the House and Senate voted by more than the required two-thirds majority to suspend legislative deadlines and file a bill to change the flag. That allows debate on a bill as soon as Sunday.

Daily Dot - June 28, 2020

TikTokers are trying to troll the Trump campaign through its online store

President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection campaign appears to be getting trolled by TikTok users, yet again. This time, TikTokers are encouraging fellow users to employ a tactic called “shopping cart abandonment” in which they go to the Trump 2020 campaign’s online store and fill up their cart with a whole bunch of merchandise they have no intention of purchasing.

The goal is to leave the campaign’s online shopping data skewed. The use of “shopping cart abandonment” could also hurt its e-commerce business by “signal[ing] a poor user experience or broken sales funnel.” People who left their digital shopping carts waiting for check-out reportedly cost retailers over $4.6 trillion back in 2016. In one TikTok video that has over half a million likes, user @preveroni encourages others to fill up their carts with millions of dollars of merchandise, and then “just forget to come back to check-out.” It has yet to be seen if the trend has had a substantial impact on the campaign. The Daily Dot has reached out to the Trump campaign. This past week, TikTok teens and K-pop stans joined forces to leave the Trump campaign stunned at its Tulsa rally. The online army of zoomers reserved tickets only to be no-shows at the campaign stop.

ABC News - June 27, 2020

US 'likely' to see shortage of pharmaceutical drugs if coronavirus outbreak continues, intelligence report finds

With coronavirus outbreaks continuing to spread across the world, the United States is "likely" to see a shortage of generic pharmaceutical drugs, according to a new federal intelligence report obtained by ABC News. The report, prepared by the Department of Homeland Security and distributed Thursday to law enforcement and government agencies around the country, warned that the U.S. is already seeing shortages of more than 200 drugs and medical supplies due to strains on the supply chain caused by international shutdowns early on in the pandemic. Those shortages would only be made worse should unchecked outbreaks force yet another round of widespread shutdowns, the analysts concluded, further straining the system in a way that many U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies would be "unable to quickly offset."

"Chinese factories that produce raw ingredients for common antibiotics closed for weeks as of March and India's lockdown extended until the end of May," the report said, citing news reports. "France, Germany, and China have also considered re-imposing lockdown measures as COVID-19 cases have begun to re-emerge." The warning comes as officials in some states have already halted some reopening plans or closed back down as coronavirus cases rise in at least 29 states, according to an ABC News analysis. Florida reported just under 9,000 new cases on Friday, the highest number since the start of the pandemic. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, made what he called a "plea" to the country on Friday to understand that the outbreaks, which are mainly in the South and West, could potentially spread to the entire country. "If we don't extinguish the outbreak, sooner or later, even ones that are doing well are going to be vulnerable to the spread," Fauci said. "So we need to take that into account because we are all in it together, and the only way we're going to end it is by ending it together." Vice President Mike Pence, however, said the country has made "truly remarkable progress" in moving forward and commended "all 50 states in this country are opening up safely and responsibly" before acknowledging some increases.

CNN - June 25, 2020

Trump administration asks Supreme Court to invalidate Obamacare

In the midst of a global pandemic with the presidential election just months away, the Justice Department asked the Supreme Court on Thursday to invalidate the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health care law that enabled millions of Americans to get insurance coverage and that remains in effect despite the pending legal challenge. In a late-night filing, Solicitor General Noel Francisco said that once the law's individual coverage mandate and two key provisions are invalidated, "the remainder of the ACA should not be allowed to remain in effect."

The justices will hear arguments in the case sometime next term, although it is unclear if they will occur before the November election. The dispute ensures another major shift in the political landscape during the election season on an issue that has dominated American politics for the last decade. It will be the third time the court has heard a significant challenge to the law. The case pits a coalition of Democratic attorneys general led by California and the House of Representatives, which are defending the law, against the Trump administration and a group of red state attorneys general led by Texas. At issue is whether the law's individual mandate was rendered unconstitutional because Congress reduced the penalty for remaining uninsured to zero and, if so, whether that would bring down the entire law. A federal appeals court in December ruled that the mandate was unconstitutional but punted the decision on which, if any, of the law's provisions could be retained back to the district court -- which had previously found the entire law to be invalidated.

Washington Post - June 27, 2020

Christopher L. Eisgruber : I opposed taking Woodrow Wilson’s name off our school. Here’s why I changed my mind.

The Princeton University Board of Trustees voted on Friday to remove Woodrow Wilson’s name from the university’s School of Public and International Affairs. It acted because Wilson’s racist opinions and policies make him an inappropriate namesake for a school whose scholars, students and alumni must stand firmly against racism and for equality and justice. For my university, the decision was momentous. Wilson was an undergraduate alumnus of Princeton, a distinguished professor on its faculty and eventually its 13th president. He transformed the place from a sleepy college to a world-class research university.

During his eight-year term, he increased the size of the faculty by half and introduced curricular reforms that persist to this day. When Wilson tried to reform the university’s social clubs, the trustees fired him because his ideas were too progressive. Wilson went on to become governor of New Jersey, president of the United States and a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. For decades, the university has celebrated Wilson’s record of public service and his achievements. Wilson was also a racist. He discouraged black applicants from applying to Princeton. While president of the United States, Wilson segregated the previously integrated federal civil service, thereby moving the United States backward in its quest for racial justice and contributing to the systemic racism that continues to damage black lives and our country today. On the Princeton campus, Wilson’s name was everywhere: on the prestigious School of Public and International Affairs, a residential college and the university’s highest award for undergraduate alumni. The first part of the university’s informal motto, “Princeton in the nation’s service,” was drawn from a Wilson speech. In November 2015, student activists occupied my office, demanding, among other things, that Wilson’s name be removed from the school. At my request, the Board of Trustees formed a committee to consider the issue. After careful deliberation, consultation with leading scholars and engagement with the broad university community, the committee eventually recommended reforms to make Princeton more inclusive and to recount its history, including Wilson’s racism, more honestly. The committee and the board, however, left Wilson’s name on the public policy school and the residential college. Until this month, I strongly agreed with that decision.

June 26, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 26, 2020

Gov. Abbott gambled Texas' reopening on contact tracing. Here’s how it went bust.

Gov. Greg Abbott was certain that contact tracing would help dig Texas out from the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. As he prepared to reopen the state in late April, the governor boasted that more than 1,000 tracers were in place to track down infections and advise anyone exposed to stay home. A website was up and running. Within weeks, thousands more tracers would be deployed and the technology to manage their progress available statewide. “What that process does is, it will box in the expansion of COVID-19,” Abbott said in a press conference April 27. But local health officials say standing up an army of tracers and the infrastructure to support them has been far more complicated than it may have seemed.

Key components of state and local tracing programs were not in place as Abbott expanded reopenings in May and June, even as cases began to rise and testing for the virus fell short of expectations. “It was a plan,” said Rebecca Fischer, an epidemiologist who leads a team of contact tracers at Texas A&M University. “I think the impression was that it was ready to roll out.” The rushed debut, compounded by an outdated reporting system and delays in processing tests for the virus, made it difficult for tracers to head off the rise in cases now sweeping across Texas, according to health officials. As its largest cities brace for a surge that has already tripled COVID hospitalizations in a month, the state is becoming a textbook example of the dangers of opening without time-tested public health measures fully in place. On Thursday, the governor announced he is delaying further reopenings and postponing elective surgeries at hospitals in four of the state’s hardest hit counties to make room for more coronavirus patients. “There is a massive outbreak of COVID-19 across the state of Texas,” Abbott, a Republican who was among the first governors to push for a re-opening, said in a TV interview Wednesday.

Bloomberg - June 26, 2020

Trump ignores virus spike as U.S. cases surge to record level

President Donald Trump has paid little heed to a resurgence in U.S. coronavirus cases -- which on Thursday hit a record level -- announcing no new steps to curb the outbreak and continuing with a normal schedule of meetings and travel as hospitals fill with sick patients. Trump hasn’t asked Americans to change their daily routines, and top administration officials say there will be no repeat of the lockdowns that collapsed the U.S. economy in March. When Trump travels or stands close to other officials, he doesn’t wear a mask, a precaution urged by health officials.

State health departments reported more than 37,000 new cases on Thursday, led by Florida, Texas, California and Arizona, surpassing the 36,188 peak from April 24. Trump, in a Twitter post late Thursday, said coronavirus deaths were “way down” and suggested that the American mortality rate was one of the lowest in the world. But the unrelenting coronavirus onslaught could prevent the kind of economic rebound he has been promising by year’s end and further damage his standing in polls that show Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent, ahead nationally and in key swing states. A mounting death toll adds to Trump’s re-election concerns as new modeling predicts the virus will kill 180,000 Americans by October. Officials have downplayed the resurgence, saying it remains contained to about a dozen states and that deaths haven’t begun to climb. “We’re going to see these things,” top White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told reporters on Thursday, referring to the growing number of cases. “But the economy is not going to be closed down again.” Many governors on the front lines of the crisis -- including those in red states -- are acting far more aggressively than Trump. Texas on Thursday halted its phased reopening as Republican Governor Greg Abbott warned of a new sharp wave of the virus.

USA Today - June 25, 2020

Arne Duncan and Rey Saldaña: Coronavirus has changed school forever, let's make it an improvement

As an unprecedented academic year grinds to an end, with schools shuttered and millions of children learning remotely in every state, education leaders face the daunting task of preparing for a fall reopening with no end to the pandemic in sight. Back to school will not be back to normal. But neither should it be a return to business as usual. As we embark on our nationwide effort to reenter school buildings, we must determine not just how far apart desks need to be, whether attendance should be staggered, and how often to sanitize facilities. We must also ask how we can build an education system that gives every child in every U.S. community the opportunity to learn and succeed.

A system better than the one we left behind in the time before COVID-19 and before George Floyd’s horrific death at the hands of Minneapolis police catalyzed waves of protest across the nation against injustice and structural inequality. A moment when we are experiencing a national health emergency and nationwide discontent may seem like exactly the wrong time to propose a bold new direction in American public education. But the coronavirus has changed everything, and the Floyd protests have shone a light on inequity inherent to all our systems, including education. The only way to adequately respond to both moments is to transform K–12 learning for good. Doing so will require a significant federal investment in education. The costs will certainly be high, but the long-term price of inaction will be even higher. An utter lack of leadership and guidance from Washington on how states and school districts should move forward with the virus continuing to circulate is a hurdle. But local leaders across America have shown boundless creativity in the months since schools started closing their doors. They’ve done their best to find new ways to educate, feed, and support students and stay connected to families.

Washington Post - June 25, 2020

New research explores how conservative media misinformation may have intensified the severity of the pandemic

Coronavirus infections have surged in a number of states, setting the United States on a markedly different pandemic trajectory than other wealthy nations. There are many reasons our response to the pandemic tied to more than 120,000 U.S. deaths has faltered, experts say, including the lack of a cohesive federal policy, missteps on testing and tracing, and a national culture emphasizing individualism. In recent weeks, three studies have focused on conservative media’s role in fostering confusion about the seriousness of the coronavirus. Taken together, they paint a picture of a media ecosystem that amplifies misinformation, entertains conspiracy theories and discourages audiences from taking concrete steps to protect themselves and others.

The end result, according to one of the studies, is that infection and mortality rates are higher in places where one pundit who initially downplayed the severity of the pandemic — Fox News’s Sean Hannity — reaches the largest audiences. “We are receiving an incredible number of studies and solid data showing that consuming far-right media and social media content was strongly associated with low concern about the virus at the onset of the pandemic,” said Irene Pasquetto, chief editor of the Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review, which published one of the studies. In April, Kathleen Hall Jamieson of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign published a peer-reviewed study examining how Americans’ media diets affected their beliefs about the coronavirus. Administering a nationally representative phone survey with 1,008 respondents, they found that people who got most of their information from mainstream print and broadcast outlets tended to have an accurate assessment of the severity of the pandemic and their risks of infection.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - June 26, 2020

Initial jobless claims in Texas remain elevated

The rate of new claims for unemployment benefits in Texas continued to wane from its highs in late March through April, but claims remain elevated. About 89,000 people in Texas applied for unemployment benefits last week. The rate has been little changed over the last three weeks, tracking about six times higher than pre-coronavirus rates. Typically, about 14,000 people apply for unemployment benefits in Texas each week.

Still, it’s well below the spikes in initial claims from late March through early April, when initial claims surpassed 300,000 per week. Nationally, too, the rate of new jobless benefits claims has slowed, with 1.5 million filing for benefits last week, compared to the highs that pushed toward 7 million per week late March and early April. But the still elevated weekly claims rate — before the coronavirus outbreak, typically around 218,000 Americans filed per week — has yet to fall below 1 million. Unemployment benefits were extended for another 13 weeks in Texas since the state triggered an emergency federal program after reporting a high unemployment rate for April. That means claimants will be eligible for a full year of unemployment benefits; the state program of 26 weeks had already been extended 13 weeks by the CARES Act.

Houston Chronicle - June 25, 2020

Mothers of Beyoncé, Breonna Taylor urge Senate to pass act to make voting easier

Tina Knowles-Lawson, mother of Beyoncé and Solange, who wrote an open letter this week urging the Senate to pass the HEROES Act to make voting more accessible. The letter is also signed by Tamika Palmer, the mother of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by Louisville, Kentucky, police in March. The letter begins with: "We are mothers of Black sons daughters - some of whom have lost our children - and we have a vision for a new America."

Knowles-Lawson and Palmer talked about the effort on CBS Morning News with Gayle King. "I'm outraged like everyone else," Knowles-Lawson said to King. "I'm not a politician. I'm not an activist in that public sense. I just felt like I had to do this." She said the letter speaks to all of the pain the nation is going through and that the Heroes Act should be passed without question. The HEROES (or Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions act) will fund election security measures such as masks and gloves at polling sites and additional voting booths. The act would also simplify voter identification requirements across all states by adding a sworn written statement as acceptable identification.

Houston Chronicle - June 25, 2020

Abbott bans elective surgeries in 4 Texas counties, puts ‘pause’ on further reopenings

Gov. Greg Abbott is ordering four of the state’s largest counties to postpone all surgeries that are not immediately necessary, to preserve hospital beds for the growing surge of COVID-19 patients. Abbott’s order is directed at Bexar, Dallas, Harris, and Travis counties. “These four counties have experienced significant increases in people being hospitalized due to COVID-19 and today’s action is a precautionary step to help ensure that the hospitals in these counties continue to have ample supply of available beds to treat COVID-19 patients,” Abbott said in a statement.

Abbott said more counties could be added to the list if hospitalizations continue to climb. Also Thursday morning, Abbott announced he is pausing his plan for reopening Texas, though the last of his planned rollbacks of coronavirus restrictions took effect June 19. “The last thing we want to do as a state is go backwards and close down businesses,” Abbott said in a statement. “This temporary pause will help our state corral the spread until we can safely enter the next phase of opening our state for business.” Statewide, Texas reported 4,389 lab-confirmed hospitalizations yesterday, double the number of cases Texas had 12 days ago and an increase of nearly 200 percent since Memorial Day, one month ago.

Houston Chronicle - June 25, 2020

Texas Medical Center leaders change tone, say COVID surge manageable

Leaders of Texas Medical Center hospitals Thursday morning expressed confidence in the system’s ability to handle a surge in intensive care demand driven by COVID-19 patients. The message, delivered at a virtual news conference, was a change in tone from a letter the executives published 18 hours earlier, warning an alarming increase in hospitalizations could soon overwhelm the system. “I think the Texas Medical Center’s purpose was to really urge people to do the right things in the community, and do so by talking about capacity, but really ended up unintentionally sounding an alarm bell too loudly,” said Houston Methodist CEO Dr. Marc Boom. “We clearly do have capacity.”

The four leaders, including Dr. Mark Wallace from Texas Children’s Hospital, Dr. David Callender from Memorial Hermann and Dr. Doug Lawson from St. Luke’s, said the system was not in imminent danger of exhausting bed capacity for COVID or non-COVID patients. They said each institution had flexible surge plans, such as shifting adult patients to Texas Children’s, a move announced earlier this week. “We are used to making adjustments on the fly, and that’s what we’re currently doing,” Callender said. After the news conference concluded, the TMC system reported 100 percent of its ICU base capacity was full for the first time since the pandemic arrived in Texas in March. The system’s internal modeling also predicts surge capacity — extra beds, equipment and staff that could be pressed into service if needed — could be exceeded as soon as July 6 if the steep rate of new COVID hospitalizations continues. TMC hospitals have 373 long-term surge ICU beds available and 504 for short-term use. The 25-county region surrounding Houston set a new COVID hospitalization record Thursday with 2,416 patients. That figure has more than tripled since Memorial Day.

Houston Chronicle - June 25, 2020

‘Risk that is not worth taking.’ Sens. Cornyn, Cruz urge feds to keep supporting COVID test sites

Texas U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn are urging the Trump administration not to pull federal support from four testing sites in Harris County, saying it’s “a risk that is not worth taking” as coronavirus cases surge. The pushback from the two Republican senators and Trump allies amplifies the outcry against the administration’s plan to pull support from seven testing sites in Texas at the end of the month. The sites administer thousands of tests per day and include two that are considered the backbone of the city of Houston’s testing effort. Officials from the city, the state Legislature and Congress are also asking the White House to reconsider.

“Now is not the time to end federal support of a program that is working and successfully increasing testing capacity — especially for underserved communities in the state,” Cornyn and Cruz wrote in a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Pete Gaynor. The federally supported sites at Butler and Delmar Stadiums are by far the city’s largest, administering up to 500 tests each per day. The two Harris County sites — at the San Jacinto College campus in Pasadena and Pridgeon Stadium — administer around 750 tests each per day. All four federally support sites have been reaching capacity by 1 p.m., officials said. The Trump administration has long planned to end federal support for the sites, which officials say are part of a “now antiquated program” the federal government is moving away from as it works to expand testing options. They also point out that the federal government has provided billions to help state testing efforts, and say state and local officials can use that funding to keep the sites going.

Houston Chronicle - June 25, 2020

Judge orders Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case back to Collin County

A Houston district judge on Thursday ordered Attorney Ken Paxton’s criminal trial back to Collin County where it originated, a move that some expect would give the Republican state official a much better chance for a like-minded judge and jury. State District Judge Robert Johnson agreed with Paxton’s attorneys Thursday that the original change of venue three years ago, from Collin County to Harris County, was invalid because the judge’s appointment to handle the case had expired at the time he approved the move. Prosecutors said Thursday that they will appeal the decision.

“We’re not surprised at the judge’s ruling today,” said special prosecutor Kent Schaffer. “We kind of saw it coming since he’s been sitting on the motion for three-quarters of the year, but we also know the law is such that we will win this issue on appeal.” Paxton’s attorney Phillip Hilder did not immediately return a request for comment. Paxton’s trial has been delayed almost five years since Paxton was first indicted on felony securities fraud charges for a number of reasons — mainly a still-unresolved dispute over special prosecutors’ pay. Johnson, a Democrat who unseated Ryan Patrick in 2016, declined to rule on the prosecutor pay issue, saying he lacked jurisdiction. Paxton, a former state lawmaker, is accused of encouraging investors to provide financial backing to a technology startup without disclosing that he was being paid by the firm. The allegations date back to 2011 and 2012 before he was first elected to his position as the state’s top prosecutor.

San Antonio Express-News - June 25, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: In Dem race for Senate, Hegar shines

The Democratic race for U.S. Senate hasn’t received the attention it deserves. While there were many exceptional and talented candidates in a crowded primary field, the race did not garner much traction with voters throughout the winter and early spring. At that time, we recommended former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who showed a remarkable command of the issues and a passion for service. But we were also impressed with MJ Hegar, a decorated retired Air Force helicopter pilot, and longtime state Sen. Royce West of Dallas. These two candidates made the runoff and, perhaps in normal times, the race would have benefited from greater focus. However, the contest was quickly overshadowed by the spread of COVID-19 and the civil rights moment that has arisen after the police killing of George Floyd.

As voters again head to the polls Monday — because many are not eligible to vote by mail in Texas during this pandemic, which is absurd — we recommend Hegar. Democratic voters have two outstanding choices who share fairly similar policy views. West is an accomplished state lawmaker with nearly three decades of experience and a deep understanding of policies and the workings of government. But in Hegar, who lives in Round Rock, we see a candidate with the potential to both mend divisions and lead on issues. She earned a Purple Heart while serving three tours in Afghanistan, where she was shot down in 2009. And she ran a compelling and competitive race in 2018, narrowly losing to Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter. As a mother and a war hero, Hegar is an interesting public figure. She also mixes intriguing policy positions and personal views. Consider how she discusses gun ownership and gun violence. Hegar has said she owns five guns, but she is outspoken about the need for greater regulations, including red flag laws, the repeal of open carry, universal background checks and the banning of assault weapons.

San Antonio Express-News - June 25, 2020

Bexar County’s population becoming more diverse, latest census figures show

Bexar County’s population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, with the numbers of Hispanic, black and Asian residents each growing at faster rates than non-Hispanic whites, new census data released late Wednesday shows. The shifting demographics mirror a trend seen across Texas, where since 2010 the surge of Hispanic, black and Asian populations also has outpaced the growth rate of non-Hispanic whites. Bexar County’s total population crossed the 2 million mark in July 2019, up from 1.7 million residents at the time of the 2010 census.

Of the 2,003,554 residents living in the county last year, more than 1.2 million were Hispanic, accounting for 60.7 percent of the population. That’s an increase from 2010, when 1 million Hispanics accounted for 58.7 percent of Bexar County’s population. The number of Hispanics grew by almost 209,000 people, or 20.7 percent, during that nine-year period, the new population estimates show. Between 2010 and 2019, the percentage of non-Hispanics of all races in Bexar County’s population decreased from 41.3 percent to 39.3 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau considers Hispanic origin to be an ethnicity and not a race. Hispanics may be of any race, the bureau said. Bexar County’s non-Hispanic Asian population grew by 47.6 percent during the same nine-year period, while its non-Hispanic black population grew by 24.4 percent, according to the latest census estimate. The number of non-Hispanic whites rose only 4 percent.

San Antonio Express-News - June 25, 2020

‘Quit trying to scare people.’ Sen. Cornyn responds as Houston Democrat warns of hospital crunch

As Democrats raise alarm over a looming shortage of hospital beds for coronavirus patients in large Texas counties, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn responded on Thursday: "Quit trying to scare people." Cornyn’s tweet was in response to Houston state Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat, who tweeted a link to a news story about the Texas Medical Center reporting 97 percent of its intensive care beds in use with the comment: “We're at the edge of the cliff. After these next few days, we will not have enough beds to care for all of the incoming #COVID19 patients. Then people die.”

Cornyn responded to Wu: “Actually, only 27% of ICU beds at Texas Medical Center are #COVID19 patients and nearly all will recover. 70% of ICU beds are non-#COVID19 patients.” Statewide, Texas reported 4,389 lab-confirmed coronavirus hospitalizations yesterday, double the number Texas had 12 days ago and a nearly 200 percent increase since Memorial Day, one month ago. The Texas Medical Center projects its intensive care capacity could be exceeded as soon as Thursday because of the surge in COVID-19 patients. Cornyn followed it up with another tweet with graphs showing recent growth in positive tests for COVID-19 in Texans ages 20 to 59.

San Antonio Express-News - June 26, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Abbott put politics before science, and Texas is paying the price

Greg Abbott doesn’t do apologies. He doesn’t issue mea culpas. He doesn’t acknowledge mistakes or concede defeat. So we have to read between the lines of Thursday’s announcement from the Texas governor to truly see what’s going on. Abbott revealed that in light of the disturbing recent explosion of COVID-19 infection rates across the state, he was pushing the pause button on the phased reopening of the state’s economy that he orchestrated over the past two months.

He also temporarily banned elective surgeries in some cities to free up increasingly scarce hospital beds. This is as close as we’ll ever get to Abbott admitting he messed up. But, of course, he did mess up. Our governor played Spin the Bottle with the worst global pandemic of the past century, and Texas is in a world of hurt right now. Over the past two days, this state has reported more than 11,000 new confirmed cases of COVID-19. That’s more than what we encountered over the first 14 days of April. Over the past two weeks, the number of Texans hospitalized with the coronavirus has more than doubled — from 2,008 to 4,739. During that same period, COVID-19 hospitalizations in the San Antonio area have gone up by nearly 500 percent. This is a disaster that anyone with a clear-eyed focus on reality could have seen coming. Abbott, after establishing a set of benchmarks in March that the state needed to reach before reopening our shuttered economy, simply threw them out a month later — just because he didn’t want to wait any longer.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 25, 2020

Tarrant County will require face masks at all businesses amid surge of COVID-19 cases

Face masks will be required in all Tarrant County businesses and at outdoor gatherings with more than 100 people, County Judge Glen Whitley announced Thursday. The executive order goes into effect at 6 p.m. Friday and will run through 6 a.m. Aug. 3.

“This marks the next stage in our fight against COVID-19,” said Whitley in making the announcement. “In an effort not to have to go back to the restrictions of March ... I believe masks are our best alternative at this time.” “If you leave home, put on a mask.” Whitley was joined by Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams, Burleson Mayor Ken Shetter and several doctors and health officials in making the announcement during a morning press conference. It is up to cities to enforce the order. Businesses that don’t comply could face a fine of up to $1,000. The Fort Worth order sets the fine at $500. The new order was prompted by a spike in coronavirus cases in Tarrant County, which on Thursday reached 10,363 cases and includes 218 deaths. Public health officials have warned of “substantial” viral spread.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 25, 2020

Colleyville won’t enforce face mask order as COVID-19 surges in Tarrant County

On the same day Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley announced that face masks will be required in all businesses and at large outdoor gatherings, Colleyville officials said the order won’t be enforced in their city limits. “The City of Colleyville will not adopt any formal action enacting this measure nor provide enforcement,” according to a message posted on the city’s Facebook page. “Questions regarding the regulation should be directed to Tarrant County.”

The statement for the city of about 26,000 in the northeastern part of the county noted that officials there “appreciate and follow” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s leadership. As COVID-19 cases skyrocket across the state, Abbott has urged people to stay at home, but declined to put in place mask requirements or new stay-at-home orders. He said local officials could put mask requirements in place for businesses but not individuals. Whitley said Tarrant County’s executive order, which goes into effect at 6 p.m. Friday and will run through 6 a.m. Aug. 3, was prompted by a spike in coronavirus cases in Tarrant County, which on Thursday reached 10,363 total cases.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 26, 2020

After mounting frustrations, TCU gives faculty option to teach remotely in fall

With faculty members expressing their displeasure in recent days, TCU decided Thursday to allow faculty the option to teach classes this fall remotely amid the coronavirus pandemic. Before Thursday, faculty members had to apply for special accommodations and be approved to teach remotely to do so. TCU Faculty Senate chair Sean Atkinson told the Star-Telegram earlier Thursday that some faculty members preferred returning to campus in the fall, while others preferred teaching remotely as they have done since mid-March.

TCU said it is adjusting and adapting plans accordingly amid the global pandemic. “The coronavirus is constantly evolving, and the situation will continue to shift between now and when school starts Aug. 17,” a school spokeswoman said late Thursday in an email. “University leadership IS offering faculty the option to teach online if they choose to do so.” Plans to allow faculty to teach remotely were finalized on Thursday. TCU also announced that it had canceled family weekend and homecoming activities this fall. Homecoming had been scheduled around TCU’s home football game against Kansas State on Oct. 17. “This is a proactive move to reduce travel to the campus and limit large indoor gatherings in an effort to decrease risk to campus,” the school said in an announcement.

Dallas Morning News - June 25, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pleads with Texans to wear masks, but leaves decisions to local leaders

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is pleading with Texans to wear face masks as cases of the coronavirus soar to record levels. But the Republican is declining to mandate them in public. In a strange twist, Abbott said he based the decision partly on mask-champion Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who he accused of going too far in enforcing coronavirus orders. Abbott’s vocal embrace of masks comes after he hindered efforts by local officials early in the pandemic to require people wear face coverings in public. Last week, he gave his blessing to cities and counties that wanted to mandate masks inside businesses.

On Thursday, Tarrant County joined Dallas County and several others in adopting such a policy. But others such as Denton and Collin counties, have not followed suit, resulting in a patchwork of mask rules across North Texas. Abbott says nearly 60 percent of Texans are now covered by the new mask orders and that businesses should enforce the rules. “They want the mask requirement because it will ensure, for one, that they will be able to keep their doors open and it will ensure compliance by their customers so it will reduce the spread in their particular business,” he said Thursday on KBLK in Lubbock. But local leaders in cities hard hit by recent surges in coronavirus cases say more action is needed to stem the virus’s spread. On Thursday, Jenkins encouraged surrounding counties to adopt mask ordinances for businesses and called on Abbott to apply the rules statewide. “At this point with the speed of the spread, it would be most beneficial if the Governor would act on a regional or statewide basis to quickly follow the advice of the top doctors on infectious disease, epidemiology, and public health in Harris, Dallas, Bexar and Travis Counties,” he said in a tweet.

Dallas Morning News - June 26, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: We recommend Chrysta Castañeda over Roberto Alonzo in the Democratic runoff for Railroad Commissioner

The job of railroad commissioner requires unique administrative and technical skills to properly balance the commission’s complicated missions to promote and also regulate oil and gas operations in Texas. In the Democratic primary runoff, attorney Chrysta Castañeda gets our nod over former state Rep. Roberto Alonzo. Castañeda, 57, has over 30 years of experience in oil and gas industry issues, first as an engineer designing the software systems that power oil and gas companies, and then as an oil and gas attorney.

In an interview with the Editorial Board, Castañeda demonstrated the ability to thoughtfully tackle complex issues such as fracking, flaring and environmental protection. We also like that she seems willing to consider new ideas and raise the standards for cleaner oil and gas production while also keeping the industry healthy. Like Castañeda, Alonzo, who spent about 20 years in the state legislature, rightly says the current Railroad Commission is unduly influenced by special interests. Although Alonzo, 63, has extensive legislative experience, Castañeda’s expertise on oil and gas issues makes her better suited to the demands of being a railroad commissioner. Case in point: Alonzo wants to limit flaring, but Castañeda wants to go a step further to create incentives for oil companies to use the natural gas to produce electricity for their operations in the field, and to connect that electricity production to the power grid so that producers could sell any excess power. In our opinion, this idea is an example of the innovative thinking that the three-person commission needs. In November, the winner of this runoff election will face Jim Wright, who defeated incumbent Ryan Sitton in the GOP primary.

Dallas Morning News - June 26, 2020

Tarrant County reports record 517 cases, issues masks order; Dallas County hospitalizations still on the rise

Dallas County reported 403 new coronavirus cases and six deaths Thursday as hospitalizations for the virus continued to rise. The victims, all of Dallas, include a man in his 60s, a man and woman in their 70s, and two men and a woman in their 80s. Dallas County now has a total of 18,538 cases — seven for every 1,000 residents — and 334 deaths. The county does not report a number of recoveries. According to the county, 556 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said at a news conference that the fastest-growing group of COVID-19 patients are those 18 to 39 years old. More than half the county’s cases reported in June are among people in that age group. “You say, ‘Well, isn’t that a good thing, because they’ve got a better chance of survival?‘” Jenkins said. “Well, they get real sick, we’ve got them on ventilators. There are some very sick young people right now with COVID.” Jenkins said that an increasing number of cases are tied to large social gatherings. He suggested that residents stop going to bars and other places where it’s not possible to constantly wear a mask. Dr. Philip Huang, the county’s health director, said at the news conference that hospitalizations and emergency-room visits continue to trend upward. Nearly 30% of emergency room visits on Wednesday — 701 — were for symptoms of COVID-19.

Associated Press - June 25, 2020

Arrest made in Texas capitol vandalism

A suspect has been arrested and charged with vandalizing the Texas Capitol during a May 30 “Black Lives Matter” demonstration.

Keegan Dalton Godsey, 23, of Austin, was arrested Tuesday after being charged with felony criminal mischief, riot, and interference with public duties, according to a statement by the Texas Department of Public Safety. Court records list him as free on bond, and a message to his attorney Thursday was not immediately returned. During the protest, monuments and fixtures were damaged, as well as DPS patrol vehicles, according to the statement. The Capitol grounds were closed during the protests, and the DPS said several of its troopers were injured. Following the protest, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called in the National Guard to help guard the Capitol and reinforce state and local law enforcement officers.

Associated Press - June 25, 2020

The Dixie Chicks officially change their name to The Chicks

Grammy-winning country group The Dixie Chicks have dropped the word Dixie from their name, now going by The Chicks. The band's social media accounts and website were changed on Thursday to the refer to the new name for the band, which is made up of Martie Maguire, Natalie Maines and Emily Strayer. The band also recognized that the name was already in use by a band in New Zealand. “A sincere and heartfelt thank you goes out to ‘The Chicks’ of NZ for their gracious gesture in allowing us to share their name. We are honored to co-exist together in the world with these exceptionally talented sisters,” the band said in a statement.

The move follows a decision by country group Lady Antebellum to change to Lady A after acknowledging the word's association to slavery. A statement on The Chicks' website said “We want to meet this moment.” The term Dixie refers to Southern U.S. states, especially those that belonged to the Confederacy. The Chicks, who are releasing their first new album in 14 years next month, also released a new video for their new song, “March March" that features videos and images from the recent Black Lives Matter rallies. Lady A received criticism with their name switch after a Black singer revealed she’d been performing as Lady A for years.

WFAA - June 25, 2020

North Texas family shaken after 18 relatives test positive for COVID-19 following family gathering

As North Texas watches COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge, one family is shouldering a health crisis that they never expected to face. That crisis, all began on May 30 when just a single relative, unknowingly infected with COVID-19, interacted with seven family members at a surprise birthday party who later tested positive.

Now, Ron Barbosa is keeping track of 18 people in his family who have tested positive for COVID-19. Per Barbosa, those seven family members contracted and spread the virus to 10 other relatives at the party or through other family interactions. Barbosa didn't attend the party himself, but the celebration was for his daughter-in-law who turned 30. However, Barbosa's nephew hosted. That nephew, Barbosa said, is the one who was unknowingly infected, thinking a slight cough was the byproduct of working in construction. Before the party, he played golf with a few family members who also attended the event, according to Barbosa. Even though everyone did their best to stay socially distant, Barbosa said it likely wasn't enough as he suspects the party was likely the catalyst of the spread.

Yahoo - June 25, 2020

Beto O'Rourke thinks Texas is 'Biden's to lose'

Although his presidential bid failed to gain traction, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke came within a hair of becoming a senator from Texas in 2018 and performed better than any Democrat in a statewide race in nearly 30 years. Forgoing a more traditional post-run path of cable punditry, O’Rourke has remained quieter than some of his counterparts since he ended his campaign. In an effort to boost former Vice President Joe Biden in Texas, he’s helping spearhead get-out-the-vote volunteer efforts through his PAC, Powered by People, and says he’s also mulling a teaching career. And while Democrats have said in previous cycles that reliably red Texas might turn blue, O’Rourke believes that the current confluence of social upheaval, racial reckoning and climbing coronavirus cases will push voters the party has long coveted — particularly suburban moderates — in Biden’s direction.

“I think Texas is Biden’s to lose,” said O’Rourke, sitting on the stoop of his El Paso home, to Yahoo News during a wide-ranging telephone interview on Wednesday. “Now, we’re in a presidential cycle, which tends to boost Democratic turnout. We already got so close in 2018. You have just a historic mismanagement of the pandemic and the economic contraction and the record number of jobless claims on top of all of the racism, the hatred and the vitriol from the president, and then in Texas we have some of the most uncontrolled spread of COVID-19,” he said. “Given the trends that we are already seeing in terms of Democrats outperforming expectations, this is already moving in the right direction.” O’Rourke pointed to Hillary Clinton’s relatively strong Texas showing in 2016, as well as his own two-and-a-half-point loss against Sen. Ted Cruz — the closest Texas Senate race in 40 years — as proof that the state is in play like never before.

The Eagle - June 26, 2020

College Station mayor signs emergency order requiring face masks

College Station Mayor Karl Mooney signed an emergency order requiring face masks in businesses late Thursday night after the city’s council members expressed unanimous support for such a requirement at their Thursday meeting. The order will go into effect Monday at 6 a.m.

The emergency order came hours after Brazos County health officials reported the 27th COVID-19 related death and 116 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday — the second-highest single-day number of new cases reported in the county. The total number of cases is 1,493, with 782 considered active. "All persons 10 years or older must wear a face covering, according to the CDC guidelines, over their nose and mouth when in a public place where it is difficult to keep six feet away from other people or working in areas that involve close proximity with coworkers," the signed order reads. The order indicates that masks are not required when exercising outdoors, when pumping gas or outdoor equipment, when consuming food or beverages, and when driving alone or with passengers who are part of the same household as the driver, among other limits. The order will be in place at least through July 10.

County Stories

San Antonio Express-News - June 25, 2020

Elaine Ayala: San Antonio College moves closer to eliminating Texas Ranger mascot

In the two months since George Floyd died with a police officer’s knee pressed into his neck, people of all colors have taken to the streets and stood before public symbols of institutional racism and said, “No more.” By force or mandate, many statues that glorify white supremacy and other forms of ethnic violence have been downed. The good people of San Antonio College watched and listened as a global pandemic gave them time for introspection. They organized and listened more. A few weeks ago, faculty, staff and student leaders banded together and formally requested that its mascot, the Ranger, be eliminated.

It had been a longstanding demand by members of its Latino faculty and its Mexican American Studies students who organized Somos La Gente, a student activist group, to educate their peers on the mascot’s history. They were finally heard. On July 14, at a special meeting of SAC’s college council, President Robert Vela will ask that it approve the removal of a symbol of institutionalized racism. SAC will take public comment online before that meeting, and anyone can sign up to speak during the Zoom event. The proposed change won’t just impact the SAC campus, but all those who’ve long worked against racism and discrimination on the nation’s streets, its schools and workplaces, in corporate boardrooms and Congress.

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 25, 2020

Complaints of ‘horrendous’ smell lead Fort Worth to clean up its act on sewage sludge

When she first noticed the odors, Georgina Holzmeier thought that a neighbor’s cow had died near her home just outside of Grandview in Johnson County. “It was so horrendous that we were actually driving the road to see if there was a dead body at the end of the street, because that’s what it smells like,” Holzmeier said, reflecting on that day almost 10 years ago. “Keep in mind that most of the people out here, we’re used to living in the country. We’re used to the smell of cow poop and horses and animals … The country smell is not decomposing bodies.” The cause of the problem? The “sewage sludge,” or biosolids, provided to landowners to fertilize their farms through programs run by the city of Fort Worth and the Trinity River Authority.

Most residents have directed their complaints toward Fort Worth’s biosolids program, which for decades has applied sewage sludge to thousands of acres of farmland each year. Biosolids programs have been championed by cities across the United States as a way to recycle waste after it is processed and rid of disease-causing bacteria. In Fort Worth, all sludge is treated at the Village Creek Water Reclamation Facility before being given to the city’s contractor to apply to farms in surrounding communities, including Johnson, Hill and Wise counties. The product is in high demand from farmers due to its nutritional benefits for soil and cheaper price when compared to commercial fertilizer. Many landowners have joined waiting lists to receive biosolids once or twice per year. But over the past decade, as rural counties surrounding Fort Worth have grappled with rapid population growth, residents have spoken out against the notorious odors that can linger for weeks or even months after the sludge has been applied to farmland.

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - June 26, 2020

Peggy Noonan: The week it went south for Trump

Something shifted this month. Donald Trump’s hold on history loosened, and may be breaking. In some new way his limitations are being seen and acknowledged, and at a moment when people are worried about the continuance of their country and their own ability to continue within it. He hasn’t been equal to the multiple crises. Good news or bad, he rarely makes any situation better. And everyone kind of knows. On Wednesday a Siena College/New York Times poll found Joe Biden ahead 50% to 36%. It’s a poll four months out, but it’s a respectable one and in line with others. (A week before, a Fox News poll had Mr. Biden leading 50% to 38%. The president denounced it as a fantasy.) This week’s poll had Mr. Biden leading among women by 22 points—a bigger lead than Hillary Clinton enjoyed in 2016. He has moderates by 33 points, independents by 21.

On Thursday a separate Times/Siena poll had Mr. Trump losing support in the battleground states that put him over the top in 2016. His “once-commanding advantage among white voters has nearly vanished,” the Times wrote. The latest White House memoir paints the president as ignorant, selfish and unworthy of high office. Two GOP House primary candidates the president supported lost their primaries resoundingly. Internet betting sites that long saw Mr. Trump as the front-runner now favor Mr. Biden. The president’s vaunted Tulsa, Okla., rally was a dud with low turnout. Senior officials continue to depart the administration—another economic adviser this week, the director of legislative affairs and the head of the domestic policy council before him. Why are they fleeing the ship in a crisis, in an election year? Judgments on the president’s pandemic leadership have settled in. It was inadequate and did harm. He experienced Covid-19 not as a once-in-a-lifetime medical threat but merely a threat to his re-election argument, a gangbusters economy. He denied the scope and scale of the crisis, sent economic adviser Larry Kudlow out to say we have it “contained” and don’t forget to buy the dip. Mr. Trump essentially admitted he didn’t want more testing because it would result in more positives.

Dallas Morning News - June 25, 2020

IRS sent $1.4B in stimulus payments to 1.1M dead people, mostly after Trump called snafus a ‘tiny’ problem

The government’s fiscal watchdog said Thursday that $1.4 billion in stimulus payments were sent to roughly 1.1 million people who had already died, bypassing IRS procedures put in place seven years to ago to prevent such improper payments. President Donald Trump had insisted that such snafus were a “tiny” problem after anecdotal reports surfaced early in the coronavirus pandemic. A congressman reported that a family friend’s late father had received a check.

In suburban Dallas, a beloved 93-year-old grandmother’s family chuckled because next to her name, the check even said “decd,” indicating that somewhere in the federal bureaucracy, her demise six months earlier was on the record. “We sent out 80 million deposits, and less than 1% had even little problems,” Trump said on April 17, downplaying the problem. “A couple had minor glitches, but it’s substantially less than 1%. So out of 80 million deposits, less than 1%. And that gets corrected immediately.” When a Dallas Morning News reporter pointed out that 1% of 80 million is 800,000 – which would represent nearly $1 billion, at $1,200 per payment – Trump responded: “The snafus are very minor … and any mistake that was made, they’ve been caught. And it’s less than 1%. That’s a very good percentage … for government.” Trump wasn’t far off on the error rate, but auditors have now confirmed the magnitude of the waste.

Washington Post - June 25, 2020

White House intensifies effort to install Pentagon personnel seen as loyal to Trump

The White House is intensifying an effort to hire Pentagon personnel with an undisputed allegiance to President Trump at a moment when his relationship with Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper has become strained, current and former officials said. The changes in mid-level leadership are poised to create a more avowedly political Defense Department and could erode the influence of Esper, who spoke out against Trump’s proposed deployment of active-duty troops to quell unrest in U.S. cities after the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police.

White House officials are now redoubling efforts as Trump complains to aides that he has never had a defense secretary who is fully aligned with his foreign policy views and accuses Pentagon officials of trying to undermine him, according to a senior administration official. The selection of candidates with connections to the president or White House is a sign of an increasingly assertive approach to personnel matters across the administration, with Trump purging confirmed and acting inspectors general at five Cabinet agencies, sending more-provocative nominees to the Senate for confirmation and sidelining officials he saw as betraying him during the impeachment process. The personnel shake-up comes as the two top research officials at the Pentagon, Michael Griffin and Lisa Porter, depart for what they called an opportunity in the private sector, and amid tension between the White House and Pentagon brass over whether Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer and former White House official who testified during the impeachment proceedings, should be promoted to colonel. Officials said the shift in personnel decision-making coincided with the appointment in January of Trump’s former body man, John McEntee, as director of the White House’s Presidential Personnel Office, which controls political appointments.

The Atlantic - June 25, 2020

Carly Fiorina wanted to be a Republican President. She’s voting for Biden.

Republicans who say Donald Trump should lose in November but insist they won’t vote for Joe Biden aren’t being honest, Carly Fiorina argues. Fiorina was a Republican candidate for president just four years ago, and was briefly Ted Cruz’s prospective running mate. Trump needs to go, she says—and that means she’s voting for Biden. Fiorina is not going to keep quiet, write in another candidate, or vote third-party. “I’ve been very clear that I can’t support Donald Trump,” she told me, in an interview that can be heard in full on the latest episode of The Ticket.

“And elections are binary choices.” She struggled with the decision, and whether to go public. But she said that this struggle is one Republicans need to have—including those who have rationalized supporting Trump despite their disagreements, because of some of his policies or judicial appointments. “As citizens, our vote is more than a check on a box. You know, it’s a statement about where we want to go, and I think what we need now actually is real leadership that can unify the country,” she said. “I am encouraged that Joe Biden is a person of humility and empathy and character. I think he’s demonstrated that through his life. And I think we need humility and empathy everywhere in public life right now. And I think character counts.”

Axios - June 25, 2020

The coronavirus surge is real, and it's everywhere

The coronavirus pandemic is getting dramatically worse in almost every corner of the U.S. The big picture: The U.S. today is getting closer to the worst-case scenario envisioned in the spring — a nationwide crisis, made worse by a vacuum of political leadership, threatening to overwhelm hospitals and spread out of control. Nationwide, cases are up 30% compared to the beginning of this month, and dramatically worsening outbreaks in several states are beginning to strain hospital capacity — the same concern that prompted the nationwide lockdown in the first place.

This is the grimmest map in the eight weeks since Axios began tracking the change in new cases in every state. By the numbers: Over half the country — 26 states — have seen their coronavirus caseloads increase over the past week. New cases are up 77% in Arizona, 75% in Michigan, 70% in Texas and 66% in Florida. California, which has seen steady increases for weeks, recorded a 47% jump in new infections over the past week. These steep increases come after weeks of steadily climbing cases or back-and-forth results across the South, Midwest and West Coast. Only the New York region and parts of New England — the earliest hotspots — have consistently managed to get their caseloads down throughout May and June. Increased testing does not explain away these numbers. Other data points make clear that we’re seeing a worsening outbreak, not simply getting better data.

The Week - June 25, 2020

Ryan Cooper: The world is putting America in quarantine

The United States is in the midst of a full-blown second wave of coronavirus. According to Worldometers, Tuesday had 36,015 new cases — the highest number since May 1, and the third-highest ever. Arizona, Florida, South Carolina, California, and Texas are headed for a dire emergency fast. So far deaths have thankfully not returned to their previous highs, probably in part because the new surge appears to be hitting younger patients. But deaths are also a lagging indicator, and they are highly likely to start increasing soon.

Europe, where most countries have largely contained the virus (after initial screw-ups), is looking at America with slackjawed horror. The European Union is likely to close its borders to American travelers when it restores some international travel on July 1. Canada will most likely keep its U.S. border mostly closed when the current agreement expires on July 21. Around the world, it is beginning to sink in how profoundly rotten the United States is. Unless America manages to turn things around, it will slide from the center of the international order to a peripheral, mistrusted basketcase, and it will deserve it. It is plainly obvious why the U.S. is experiencing a second wave. The point of coronavirus lockdowns, as I and dozens of others explained months ago, was to buy time for the government to set up more fine-grained containment protocols that could contain the virus more effectively.

Los Angeles Times - June 24, 2020

Supreme Court 2020: Major rulings on abortion, Trump's tax returns still to come

The Supreme Court is nearing the end of its term and ready to release major decisions on abortion, religion and the separation of powers between the president and Congress — specifically, whether House Democrats or a New York grand jury can obtain President Trump's tax returns. The court has already handed down a pair of surprises by extending the 1964 Civil Rights Act to protect LGBTQ employees and by blocking President Trump's repeal of the Obama-era program that protects the so-called Dreamers, the young immigrants who were brought to this country as children. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voted with the four liberals in both cases, triggering dismay and dissent among his colleagues on the right.

The chief justice also figures to hold the deciding vote in the biggest cases yet to be decided. A Louisiana dispute over doctors who perform abortions has taken on added significance because it will be the first abortion ruling since Trump's two appointees took their seats and because it will signal whether the more conservative court will stick with its precedents on abortion. Trump is counting on the court to protect him from subpoenas issued by three House committees and a New York grand jury that seek financial records held by his accountant or by Deutsche Bank, which made large loans to Trump's properties. Trump sued to block the subpoenas but lost in three lower courts. Usually, the court hands down its final decisions by the end of June and goes on recess for the summer. But the coronavirus shutdown delayed the arguments in several cases, including the dispute over Trump's taxes, which in turn could push the last decisions into early July. Here's a look at the major cases still pending, and the significant rulings so far: