September 18, 2020

Lead Stories

New York Times - September 18, 2020

C.D.C. testing guidance was published against scientists’ objections

A heavily criticized recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month about who should be tested for the coronavirus was not written by C.D.C. scientists and was posted to the agency’s website despite their serious objections, according to several people familiar with the matter as well as internal documents obtained by The New York Times. The guidance said it was not necessary to test people without symptoms of Covid-19 even if they had been exposed to the virus. It came at a time when public health experts were pushing for more testing rather than less, and administration officials told The Times that the document was a C.D.C. product and had been revised with input from the agency’s director, Dr. Robert Redfield.

But officials told The Times this week that the Department of Health and Human Services did the rewriting and then “dropped” it into the C.D.C.’s public website, flouting the agency’s strict scientific review process. “That was a doc that came from the top down, from the H.H.S. and the task force,” said a federal official with knowledge of the matter, referring to the White House task force on the coronavirus. “That policy does not reflect what many people at the C.D.C. feel should be the policy.” The document contains “elementary errors” — such as referring to “testing for Covid-19,” as opposed to testing for the virus that causes it — and recommendations inconsistent with the C.D.C.’s stance that mark it to anyone in the know as not having been written by agency scientists, according to a senior C.D.C. scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of a fear of repercussions. Adm. Brett Giroir, the administration’s testing coordinator and an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, the C.D.C.’s parent organization, said in an interview Thursday that the original draft came from the C.D.C., but he “coordinated editing and input from the scientific and medical members of the task force.”

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

Bars still closed in Texas, but Abbott eases COVID limits on businesses, elective surgeries and nursing home visits

Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday eased his coronavirus restrictions on many businesses and allowed a resumption of elective surgeries in North Texas and most other parts of the state. He also announced that, starting next Thursday, the state will allow more visitors at nursing homes that meet certain protocols. The Republican governor, though, did not reopen bars. They’ve been closed since late June, when a spike in COVID-19 cases forced Abbott to backtrack on relaxing restrictions.

“If we fully reopen Texas without limits without safe practices, it could lead to an unsustainable increase in COVID that would require the possibility of being forced to ratchet back down,” Abbott said. “The better approach is to safely take strategic steps that help Texans return to jobs, while also protecting them from COVID-19.” Under Abbott’s new plan, starting Monday, these businesses and facilities that are currently limited to 50% capacity can go to 75% -- if they’re in a hospital region that for at least seven consecutive days has 15% or less of its hospital beds filled with COVID-19 patients: Restaurants, retail establishments, office buildings, manufacturing facilities, libraries, museums and gyms. In those areas, effective immediately, he’s also lifting his second prohibition of elective surgeries this year. Of 22 so-called Trauma Service Areas or hospital regions in Texas, the only ones where coronavirus patients comprise more than 15% of all hospitalized patients are the lower Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria. They will not be able to resume elective procedures and expand businesses' capacity to 75% until the COVID patient share of their hospital census gets to 15% or less for seven consecutive days. In the Dallas-Fort Worth region, the percentage of hospital patients with COVID currently is 6.3%, down from an earlier peak of 17%.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

Feds say lab’s woes threaten patient safety. Texas sent thousands of COVID-19 tests there

Texas used a laboratory for COVID-19 testing that has been under scrutiny for months by federal regulators who found widespread flaws that could undermine the accuracy of results and pose “immediate jeopardy to patient health and safety,” according to records obtained by The Dallas Morning News. The state suspended use of the California lab, NovaDX, on Wednesday, a day after The News informed Texas officials of a federal inspection report from July. The report questioned the qualifications of lab workers and found practices that could allow contamination of samples. NovaDX has processed roughly 80,000 COVID-19 tests for Texans, a total that includes samples from two state-run test sites in southern Dallas, officials said.

The federal agency that oversees clinical labs, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is determining whether NovaDX has fully addressed problems that inspectors found. In a statement, lab CEO Blake Anderson said his company takes seriously its commitment to lab safety and accurate testing. This marks the second time the state has halted its use of NovaDX. The first, in June, came after some nursing homes reported receiving false positive results for residents. The state looked into the matter and determined it was an isolated issue that had been fixed. Around the same time, a federal inspection of NovaDX found more sweeping problems. Experts said the issues raise questions about whether to use the lab. “The very long list of deficiencies certainly is incredibly worrisome,” said Dr. Geoffrey Baird, interim chair of the department of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The problems point to lapses in how Texas oversees companies that are trusted -- and paid millions of dollars -- to carry out work essential to stemming the spread of the deadly virus.

NPR - September 17, 2020

In 'tense' call, DeJoy tells election officials that USPS can handle mail ballots

In a call that included a number of "tense moments," Postmaster General Louis DeJoy sought to reassure a group of the nation's top election officials Thursday that election mail will be his agency's highest priority this fall, according to one state election official on the call. Specifically, DeJoy told the officials that his agency was undertaking a public information campaign to explain to voters that the U.S. Postal Service is equipped to handle the expected increase in mail volume that comes during election season, according to New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who leads the National Association of Secretaries of State, which organized the call.

DeJoy also talked more in depth about training for Postal Service employees about how to handle election mail, including postmarking, which in some jurisdictions needs to happen for a mail ballot to count. "We're at the 'trust but verify' point," said Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat. "We will be taking [the Postal Service] at their word that they are going to put these much-needed processes and guidelines into place. And only through ongoing communication and accountability will we be able to be assured." The implementation of the aforementioned information campaign got off to a rocky start, with one state election official even calling postcards the USPS sent out last week "misinformation." The cards urge voters to "plan ahead" if they expect to vote by mail this fall, which is a message consistent with what officials nationwide have tried to relay. But the cards also tell voters to "Request your mail-in ballot ... at least 15 days before Election Day" — a message that has alarmed officials in states where ballots are automatically sent out to registered voters, like Colorado, Utah and Washington, and where voters might be then confused about whether they need to make a request. "I just found out the @USPS is sending this postcard to every household and PO Box in the nation," tweeted Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat, last Friday, with an image of the card. "For states like Colorado where we send ballots to all voters, the information is not just confusing, it's WRONG."

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Natali Hurtado for state House 126

In a repeat of the 2018 race for state House District 126, Democrat Natali Hurtado is facing off against Republican Sam Harless. Two years ago, we recommended Harless for this seat based in large part on the Republican’s wise and politically brave support for expanding Medicaid and his contempt for the unscrupulous far-right activist group Empower Texans. Unfortunately, Harless has backed away from Medicaid expansion at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has made access to health care more important than ever. In a recent screening with the editorial board, he said he looked forward to a debate about expansion and expected it would happen someday. But he would not express support outright.

He also voted against a 2019 amendment that would have directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to seek a federal waiver to expand Medicaid in the state. That vote just happened to earn a green check mark from Empower Texans. As our state battles COVID-19, Harless has appeared at campaign events without a mask and taken issue with Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s mask order. Those actions show a troubling tendency to ignore science and turn a public health crisis into a partisan issue. All this led us to take a fresh look at Hurtado. We like what we see. As we noted in 2018, Hurtado, 36, who has put in time working with elected officials at City Hall, the Texas House and in Congress for U.S. Rep. Gene Green, has a solid grasp of policy work and has used the last two years to dig deep into the needs of the district and make connections with policymakers.

Houston Chronicle - September 18, 2020

Jerome Solomon: Big Ten’s reversal puts safety second

Do you have a good reason college football must be played? Not too long ago, the Big Ten Conference took the high road. It wasn’t going to play politics with a game. It wasn’t going to take unnecessary risks to play during a global pandemic. It wasn’t about to bow to political pressure, not even from the White House. Rutgers University president Jonathan Holloway, who played college football at Stanford, said the conference’s decision to postpone football season until early next year would give it a chance to “learn about the science, different kinds of tests and potential vaccines” for the coronavirus that has caused nearly 200,000 U.S. deaths this year. Those upset with the move wanted more of an explanation, better reasons.

“The virus has revealed things that many of us have known to be true for a long time, but now we can’t hide from that fact,” Holloway told NJ.com. “And when it comes to what is the value proposition of college football across the country, the virus has revealed the truth here about how different conferences are navigating that space. And I’m very happy to be in the Big Ten.” In other words, those reckless scoundrels from football-crazed conference like the SEC and Big 12 have warped values. Well, warp speed ahead a couple weeks, and now the Big Ten has reshaped its values. It will begin playing football games in October. People who were upset at the league’s postponing games don’t need any reasons now. While the Big Ten’s messaging has been horrid — commissioner Kevin Warren declared forcefully that the initial decision to push fall sports back would not be revisited — this is more a question of how the league could have gotten such a major decision so wrong. And let’s not act as if any of us know which decision was wrong, the one to cancel or the one to play. I certainly don’t. I also haven’t heard a good reason why any of these non-professional games must be played.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2020

Former Harris County judge pleads guilty to embezzling campaign funds; is sentenced

A former Harris County civil court judge pleaded guilty Thursday to embezzling campaign funds, capping off a turbulent year for the jurist, who is in remission from cancer and was charged with firing a gun at her husband’s girlfriend this summer. Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, 44, told U.S. District Judge Lynn N. Hughes she was guilty of wire fraud and spent campaign donations on purchases for herself. She was sentenced to 36 days in custody, which she has already served in jail, and three years supervised release. Judge Hughes ordered her release from federal lockup in Conroe. The government dismissed the remaining charges and prosecutor Ted Imperato, of the public corruption unit, objected to the sentence.

In the past year, Smoots-Thomas’ lawyer Kent Schaffer said, she has undergone cancer treatment, been indicted in a federal case and then removed from her bench in the 164th Civil Court. She resigned from the position in January. After charges were filed, Smoots-Thomas’ judgeship was suspended pending the outcome of the federal case. Then in July she lost in the Democratic primary runoff for her bench. In August she was arrested in connection to an assault involving her estranged husband’s girlfriend at a Houston home and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. The federal allegations involve the misuse of $24,892 in campaign funds. According to court records, the former judge spent the money on a home mortgage, private school tuition, a Prada handbag and a ring from Zales between 2013 and 2018. Smoots-Thomas was first elected in 2008. She graduated from University of St. Thomas and then from South Texas College of Law.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Why we still endorse candidates. And why you should trust our recommendations.

These are trying times for all Americans. How this country proceeds on local, state and national levels will be determined by only one group of people: the voters who cast their ballots this fall. Starting Oct. 13, when early voting begins statewide, Texans who take the time to fulfill their civic duty will face tough decisions — this time, without the straight-ticket option. We on the Houston Chronicle Editorial Board are here to help busy voters make informed choices in races up and down the ballot. For weeks, our team of experienced opinion journalists has been doing our homework on the candidates, researching their records, conducting background checks and asking them the hard questions that test challengers and hold incumbents accountable.

From Sept. 17-Oct. 13, we’ll be publishing recommendations in dozens of races. Our picks, and our process, always prompt questions. A few words about our philosophy and our approach this election season: If newspapers are objective, why do you recommend candidates? Newspapers don’t endorse candidates. Editorial boards do. The editorial board is separate from the newsroom. It is made up of opinion journalists with wide-ranging expertise whose consensus opinions and recommendations represent the voice of the institution — defined as the board members, their editor and the publisher. We do it as a service to our readers and to our democracy, which cannot flourish without an informed citizenry. For many busy people, researching each candidate isn’t possible. Rather than turn to partisan slates, some with pay-to-play motivations, we offer an alternative: informed candidate recommendations from nonpartisan journalists informed by facts, borne of careful analysis. Which races are included in our recommendations? Every contested statewide race, from chief justice and other top benches to railroad commissioner. Every state House and Senate race that will appear on a ballot in Harris County. On the federal level, president and U.S. senate, and in every congressional district that includes part of Harris County. Locally, we’ll cover Harris County sheriff, district attorney, county commissioner, tax-assessor collector, county attorney and our local seat on the state board of education. In addition to nearly 20 state district judge races, we’ll also recommend candidates for Harris County Community College district. Any races we’re skipping? Yes. To protect quality, we’ve had to reduce quantity — but only a little. We won’t recommend candidates for county courts of law or justices of the peace. As a rule, we don’t endorse in uncontested races or those without viable challengers.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Chrysta Castañeda for Railroad Commission

Texas and Houston depend mightily on a thriving oil and gas industry, and that’s why it’s so important that the Railroad Commission of Texas be led by experienced, capable commissioners. Fortunately, as an engineer and a lawyer, Democrat Chrysta Castañeda has the combination of knowledge and experience to help the RRC shepherd the crucial industry through one of the most challenging economies in decades. As the founding law partner of the Castañeda Firm, which focuses on oil and gas litigation, she also understands the importance of crafting and enforcing regulations to protect the state’s environment. That is why we recommend Castañeda, 57, in the statewide Railroad Commission race in the Nov. 3 election. If elected, she would join two Republican commissioners who, like her opponent, can be counted on to give the industry’s needs top billing over environmental concerns. What’s really needed is a balance between helping the industry thrive and minimizing its harmful impacts.

Republican Jim Wright, a South Texas rancher and oil field service company owner who knocked off Commissioner Ryan Sitton in the GOP primary, is also on the ballot, as is Libertarian candidate Matt Sterett, who runs a small software company based in Austin. While Wright also would bring experience to the job, it would be soley from the industry side. Texas needs at least one member of the Railroad Commission who takes to heart both the mandate that the commission promote the oil and gas industry and its charge to safeguard the water and air Texans drink or breathe. Castañeda will do just that. Launching her campaign with a focus on the wasteful and damaging practice of flaring — the burning of surplus gas from oil wells — she is better positioned to steer a course for the 21st century. “There is incredible ingenuity and creativity in this industry and we just need to tap it, because these problems can be solved,” she told the editorial board. Castañeda is our choice because we believe that is the best approach for the future of Texas.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: We recommend Michelle Palmer in District 6, State Board of Education

Long-time history teacher Michelle Palmer was troubled when the Texas State Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that describes Moses as an influence on the Founding Fathers. The Aldine ISD teacher saw the 2018 decision as a particularly egregious example of the board incorporating historical inaccuracies into textbooks and curricula used to teach 5.4 million Texas public school students. “Moses was not much of an influence on Thomas Jefferson. He was not much of an influence on many of the Founding Fathers,” Palmer told the editorial board. “I find it very troubling that they have that as a standard that is supposed to be taught to our 13- and 14-year-old eighth graders.” Even more troubling: It was part of a pattern for the 15-member state board of education, which is more often guided by conservative ideology than by good curriculum design.

That history motivated Palmer, 50, to run for the position currently held by Chair Donna Bahorich, R-Houston, who is not seeking re-election. “As a board member, I would listen to the experts,” said Palmer, a Democrat. That sounds basic, and it should be. But too many on the current board have refused to do so. That is why we are recommending Palmer for SBOE Position 6. The state board of education has responsibilities critical for the education of Texas children: setting curriculum standards, adopting textbooks and other instructional materials for public schools, overseeing the Texas Permanent School Fund and reviewing charter school applications. As such, it’s imperative to stop political agendas from overriding academic expertise.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

State Farm to acquire Dallas insurance firm Gainsco for $400 million in historic deal for company

Dallas-based Gainsco has agreed to be acquired by State Farm in a $400 million deal, according to a Thursday news release. The deal, in which State Farm has agreed to purchase all of Gainsco’s stock, is State Farm’s first acquisition of another insurance company in its 98-year history. Gainsco will continue to operate as a separate company, but over time will the two insurance firms will begin to combine products offered to customers, according to State Farm. The deal is expected to close in early 2021 pending approval of Gainsco’s shareholders.

“We are excited for the opportunity State Farm agents will have to serve a market that has historically not been open to them," State Farm president and CEO Michael Tipsord said in a statement. “This will help us further toward our goal of serving more customers in more ways.” With its headquarters in Oak Lawn, Gainsco was founded in 1978 and specializes in providing minimum-limits personal auto coverage, or insurance plans that meet legal minimums in each state. It employs more than 400 in Dallas. Parent company Gainsco’s MGA Insurance Co. primarily insures lower-income, high-risk customers. Gainsco is a publicly-held company, though one that does not report earnings to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.“GAINSCO looks forward to providing our very successful minimum-limits auto insurance program to State Farm agents in the future, while continuing to partner with our own outstanding agency system as we expand across the country," Gainsco CEO Glenn Anderson said in a statement.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

Candace Valenzuela endorsed by Biden, Buttigieg as Texas 24 race against Beth Van Duyne heats up

Democratic congressional candidate Candace Valenzuela continues to collect high-profile endorsements in her bid to flip a long-held Republican House seat in the suburbs between Dallas and Fort Worth. This week both Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and former presidential contender Pete Buttigieg are throwing their support to Valenzuela. The former Carrollton-Farmers Branch school board member has previously been endorsed by other leading Democrats including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, who is now the party’s vice presidential nominee. Valenzuela’s race against Republican Beth Van Duyne, the former Irving mayor, is one of the most closely watched among national political observers.

National Democrats see Texas' 24th Congressional District as a prime pick up as suburban communities — not long ago considered safe Republican territory — across the country shift politically. The race to flip the seat held for more than a decade by Republican Congressman Kenny Marchant, who is retiring, also offers a window in how Democrats see the entire Lone Star state as up for grabs in the presidential contest. Recent presidential polls — including a recent Dallas Morning News/UT-Tyler poll — show a tight race between President Donald Trump and Biden. The pair of endorsements for Valenzuela — who beat retired Air Force Col. Kim Olson in a July runoff election — comes as both campaigns and their outside supporters ramp up their messaging to voters. Political committees from both parties have reserved millions of dollars in television ads between now and November. More is expected.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: North Texas U.S. attorney leads the way by going after the demand side of sex trafficking

One year ago, any parent’s greatest nightmare became a reality for one Fort Worth family. After dropping off their 13-year-old daughter at middle school on Sept. 25, 2019, they received a call from the school saying she never arrived in class that day. A missing persons report was filed. Six weeks later, detectives with the Fort Worth Police Department’s Human Trafficking/Missing Persons Unit identified the child in an ad selling her for sex on CityXGuide.com, a classified advertising site launched shortly after the U.S. Justice Department shut down the notorious Backpage.com, the world’s largest website for buying and selling sex, in April 2018.

On Nov. 4-5, 2019, the Fort Worth detectives answered the ad through text messages and, along with federal agents, conducted a successful sting operation resulting in the rescue of the 13-year-old child; the arrest of her alleged trafficker, 34-year-old Curtis Vance Mathis; the shutdown of CityXGuide; and the arrest of its owner, 46-year-old Wilhan Martono, who faces up to 25 years in a federal prison if convicted of charges that include “reckless disregard of sex trafficking,” “facilitating prostitution” and money laundering. Thanks to the fine work of the Fort Worth detectives and feds, the girl and her family’s nightmare had ended — and the long road to healing and recovery had begun. Yet, until now, none of the “johns” who paid for sex with the 13-year-old girl — clearly a child who, according to police affidavits, was rescued from a West Irving hotel room wearing only a “hoodie,” visibly terrified, and held against her will — had been charged with a crime or arrested.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

North Texas mom details son’s fight with leukemia, urges support for Biden in campaign ad

A North Texas mother is urging Americans to vote for Joe Biden, arguing that President Donald Trump’s health care policies could come at the expense of her 5-year-old son’s insurance in the middle of his battle with leukemia. “If Donald Trump gets rid of our health care law, my son won’t be protected,” Kaitlin Burge, who lives in Princeton, says in a Biden campaign ad released Wednesday. “We would have to make some tough decisions about what medications we can afford. We need a president who will protect our healthcare, and that’s Joe Biden.”

The 30-second spot -- which will run on broadcast and digital in Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin -- features a voiceover from Burge detailing long days watching Beckett deal with the effects of leukemia on his body while she also cared for his 6-year-old sister, Aubrey. “He would get sick, Aubrey would take him to the bathroom and she would rub his back,” Burge says in the ad. The video is part of a series of four ads released by the Biden campaign Wednesday. The campaign says it will spend $65 million this week to broadcast the series in battleground states. Burge said the Biden campaign reached out to her about doing the ad. She agreed, hoping it will bring awareness to childhood cancer and the lack of empathy that she says Trump has on health care issues.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

'We called them out’: How Black undergraduates at UT Dallas are powering a push against systemic racism on campus

After the police killing of George Floyd this summer, hundreds of students signed a petition asking the University of Texas at Dallas to publicly show solidarity with its Black and African American community members. A few days later, University President Richard Benson issued a statement calling for change and stressing the importance of the campus living out values of diversity and tolerance. “OK,” senior Chizuruoke Ukachi-Nwata thought to himself. “Let’s take you up on that offer.” Like peers across the country, Ukachi-Nwata is hoping to channel momentum around the Black Lives Matter movement and a national racial reckoning into sustained, institutional change.He is now one of nine students on UT-Dallas’ Living Our Values Task Force, a 23-member group of faculty, staff, and students that have been meeting weekly online since July.

Benson has charged the group with addressing issues of systemic racism, bias, equity and inclusion at the university, where Black students represent 5 percent of the undergraduate population. Collectively, students say they’ve logged over 250 hours this summer working on task force proposals, on top of classes, jobs, internships, and for one, the logistical hurricane of organizing a march for George Floyd. But they’re still waiting to see the outcome of their efforts. Task force activities have continued a month past the initial deadline of August 17, the start of the fall semester. With over 50 more hours volunteered since then, they’re frustrated and concerned that this initiative has been performative. According to the university, there is no set deadline, but recommendations will be made to Benson on a rolling basis. Whatever happens next, said senior and task force member Tamara Havis, “really is going to change the dynamics in the university for a lot of students.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2020

UT Health San Antonio to build teaching hospital, strengthen partnership with UHS

UT Health San Antonio plans to build a 144-bed teaching hospital, a key component of its joint effort with University Health System to bolster health care in San Antonio, officials said Wednesday. UT Health and UHS, both publicly funded, are looking to form an integrated health care system, a venture that would operate as a nonprofit with its own board of directors and that could co-develop clinics and other facilities in the future. The institutions signed an initial, nonbinding agreement Sept. 4. “We’ve had a 51-year-old partnership with University Health System,” said Dr. William Henrich, president of UT Health San Antonio. “This memorandum of understanding that we’ve signed signals a day in which we advance that partnership.”

UT Health’s planned hospital — a multispecialty research facility estimated to cost up to $430 million — is expected to open in spring 2024. The eight-story hospital will be located at Wurzbach Road and Floyd Curl Drive in the South Texas Medical Center. A bridge over Floyd Curl will connect the hospital to the Mays Cancer Center. The facility, which will be part of the University of Texas System, will sit near University Hospital. “We have intentionally designed the new UT Health hospital to be complementary to the services that are offered at University Hospital,” Henrich said. “We don’t want to compete with or duplicate any of those services.” UT Health will present design plans to the UT system’s Board of Regents in mid-November.

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2020

Out of a job over face mask, former teacher in San Antonio pushes anti-racism plan at charter network

A former Great Hearts Academies elementary school art teacher is calling on the charter network to implement anti-racism action plans in its schools. Lillian White, who taught at Great Hearts Western Hills, said she had tangled with an administrator’s order against wearing face masks that reference the “current political climate” by refusing to stop wearing masks with phrases that included “Black Lives Matter,” “No Justice, No Peace” and “Justice delayed is justice denied,” according to a month’s worth of e-mails that culminated in her job loss Sept. 5. She published an online petition two weeks ago that has garnered nearly 900 signatures, calling for anti-racism training for employees and board members, diverse representation in curriculum and campus-based monitoring of the plan.

“This is not an accusation of racism. We all have biases, and we must learn to recognize and face them in order to come together to heal and support each other,” White wrote. “An educational institution should not be opposed to learning.” White did not respond to an interview request and Great Hearts declined one, citing privacy for current and former employees. Officials provided a statement that quoted from a June 6 letter its interim superintendent sent to families and employees. “We stand with the Black community and all who are suffering,” wrote Daniel Scoggin, who is also the network’s co-founder. “Great Hearts deplores bigotry and its crushing effects on all those subjected to it. Great Hearts is committed to an America where racism, violence, and injustice do not happen, because such acts find no home in the hearts of a great people.” The emails, which White posted online, show she contacted Andrew Ellison, executive director of Great Hearts San Antonio, on Aug. 4 to argue against the mask directive.

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2020

Poverty rates for San Antonio and Texas dropped sharply in 2019 — before the pandemic

The poverty rate for San Antonio residents fell to its lowest level in at least a decade in 2019, while the statewide rate dropped to a more than 15-year low, according to new census numbers. Although the numbers are positive, they provide a snapshot of life a year ago — before the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. The 2020 data are expected to look much different; those figures will be released next year. In 2019, the nation’s poverty rate plunged to its lowest level since the Census Bureau began its American Community Survey in 2005.

The poverty rate did not rise in any state last year or in any of the nation’s 25 most populous metro areas, according to census estimates released Wednesday. Poverty rates went down in 23 states and the District of Columbia and in more than half of the 25 largest metro areas. Another bright spot: median household income in the city of San Antonio rose 7.7 percent in 2019, while increasing only marginally in Texas and the nation as a whole. Yet San Antonio continued to lag Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, New Braunfels, Corpus Christi and Beaumont in median household income. San Antonio’s poverty rate dropped to 16.8 percent in 2019, down 3.2 percentage points from 2018. That’s a significant decline from the city’s highest poverty rate — 21.7 percent, recorded in 2012.

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2020

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy slams NBA, Pelosi for not honoring police killed in line of duty

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Austin, slammed the NBA and national party leaders for not honoring law enforcement officers killed this year in the line of duty. In his emotional speech on the House floor Tuesday, Roy held up a large black sign with the number 43 printed in white, representing the number of fallen officers so far in 2020, and asked why the NBA and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have stayed silent about the deaths. "Forty-three law enforcement officers that have been murdered, are their names on the back of any jerseys?" Roy asked. "Or, is that just for preening and posturing by the true privileged who play sports for a living?" During the speech, the congressman, whose district encompasses parts of San Antonio and Austin, presented a mark-up of a basketball-style jersey with "# of Police Killed:" written above the number 43.

He also slammed the NBA for not putting the names of business owners who suffered losses during riots in recent months and the coronavirus pandemic. Roy said the number of law enforcement officers killed this year has increased by 40 percent as compared to the same period in 2019. He then listed off the ways officers have died: eight categorized as premeditated murder; two in unprovoked attacks; eight killed at point blank range; eight shot in the front of the head; two shot in the back of the head; six shot in the neck; nine shot in the chest. "These were real people" Roy said. "Where are those names I just read of the officers who died in the line of duty this year?" The congressman also put the blame on leaders like Pelosi, who he said "fomented" the incidents happening on the streets. He continually asked the empty chamber where she was instead of listening to his speech and wondered out loud why his colleagues weren't on the floor voting for a resolution to honor the officers and not "standing up for law and order and security in the streets." Roy is in a tight race for Texas’ 21st Congressional District seat with democrat nominee Wendy Davis.

Austin American-Statesman - September 17, 2020

Ken Herman: Abbott avoids repeating previous mistake

OK, Texas. Let’s try this again. Chastened by previous failure, I harbor hope we can do better this time. We’re capable of learning. I hope. Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday, amid improving COVID-19 numbers in most of Texas, cracked open the doors a bit more, expanding capacity at lots of facilities in areas of the state with statistics he says justify it. That means everywhere except the Rio Grande Valley, Laredo and Victoria areas. And it doesn’t really mean all that much, though it could mean a lot for some business owners.

The headline on what Abbott announced: As of Monday, allowable capacity will be increased from the current 50% to 75% at retail outlets, restaurants, manufacturing facilities, museums, libraries and gyms. (Restaurants had been at 75% until Abbott, facing stats showing increasing spread, cut it back to 50%.) Also, visits, with protocols, will be allowed to resume at long-term care facilities as of Sept. 24. This is a big, welcomed deal for people in those facilities and their loved ones who’ve gone so long without being able to visit. But the biggest headline is something Abbott isn’t doing: He’s not repeating a mistake he made earlier this year. He’s not reopening the bars, which had been at 50% capacity limit until June. “Because bars are nationally recognized as COVID-spreading locations, they’re still not able to open at this time,” Abbott said Thursday. “However, it is important for them to know that we are focused on finding ways to get them open.” The governor said work is needed “on effective strategies that will ensure that when they do open, the possibility of spread of COVID is contained.” Good luck with that. Abbott said bar owners “have offered some very helpful ideas. And we will continue to work with them on that process.”

Austin American-Statesman - September 18, 2020

TRS: Still no takers for Indeed Tower space

The Teacher Retirement System of Texas is bracing to be on the hook for its $487,000-a-month lease of luxury office space in downtown Austin significantly longer than it expected. The state agency had been aiming to find tenants to sublease the space in the 36-story Indeed Tower by the time that its obligation to begin paying the bill starts next year. But that goal probably won’t be met, amid a broad downturn in demand for office space sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, the retirement system is “most likely” going to have to pay full freight for the first six months that payments are due, according to the agency.

“The potential savings (by subleasing) has diminished” as a result, Eric Lang, a senior managing director for the retirement system, told the agency’s board Thursday. “The biggest driver of this is the timing of finding a subtenant.” Lang said it’s also doubtful the retirement system will be able to sublease all 100,000 square feet over the three full floors that it has in the building within even the new time frame. Instead, he said, it could take up to an additional year to find takers for all of it. Later Thursday, retirement system spokesman Rob Maxwell noted in a written statement that the agency has “an abatement” built into its Indeed Tower lease, under which it won’t be obligated to start paying rent on the space until four months after the lease commences on July 1 next year. “While TRS will meet our obligations with respect to the space regardless of when a subtenant or subtenants are found, the lease has an abatement built in for the first four months,” he said. “That abatement would offset costs if TRS is unable to secure a sublease for the expected occupancy date.” But Lang’s comments during the board meeting appeared to factor in the abatement.

Austin American-Statesman - September 17, 2020

Blue Bell hit with $17M penalty for listeria outbreak

Texas ice cream maker Blue Bell Creameries has been ordered to pay $17.25 million in criminal penalties for the deadly 2015 listeria outbreak that led to the deaths of three people and forced the ice cream maker to recall all its products. The sentence against the Brenham-based ice cream maker was handed down Thursday by U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin, the U.S. Justice Department said. Blue Bell pleaded guilty in May to two misdemeanor counts of distributing adulterated ice cream products. The sentence “was consistent with the terms of a plea agreement previously filed in the case,” according to the Justice Department. The $17.25 million fine and forfeiture amount is the largest-ever criminal penalty following a conviction in a food safety case, the Justice Department said.

“American consumers must be able to trust that the foods they purchase are safe to eat,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said in a written statement. “The sentence imposed today sends a clear message to food manufacturers that the Department of Justice will take appropriate actions when contaminated food products endanger consumers.” The company said in a Thursday that the court action “closes a difficult chapter in Blue Bell’s history.” “We learned hard lessons and turned them into determination to make the safest, most delicious ice cream available, with upgraded production facilities, training, safety procedures, and environmental and product testing programs,” the company said in a written statement. “Food safety is our highest priority, and we know we must continue to be vigilant every day.” The Justice Department said Thursday that since reopening its facilities in late 2015, “Blue Bell has taken significant steps to enhance sanitation processes and enact a program to test products for Listeria prior to shipment.” Judy McMeekin, U.S. Food and Drug Administration associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said the FDA will continue to “pursue and bring to justice” those who put the public health at risk by distributing contaminated foods in the U.S. marketplace.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 18, 2020

Fort Worth Star-Telegram Editorial: Should salon owner Shelley Luther be voted to Texas Senate? Here’s our recommendation

When lawmakers return to Austin in January, they face a daunting plateful of issues stemming from the pandemic: a deep budget shortfall, an ongoing economic crisis, challenges for schools and health care providers. There’s also sure to be a robust debate about whether the Legislature should curb the governor’s emergency powers and assure representatives have more of a role in governing during a crisis. Experience will be valuable. State Senate District 30 voters, filling a vacancy in a Sept. 29 special election, can choose a senator to hit the ground running. We recommend they do so by elevating state Rep. Drew Springer to the Senate.

The sprawling district wraps around Dallas-Fort Worth. It includes fast-growing exurbs such as the Walsh development and Parker County and Prosper in Collin County. But much of it is rural, with different needs, so the next senator will need to be able to multitask. Springer, 53, grew up in Weatherford and has already served many of the district’s counties in his four terms in the House, where he chairs the Agriculture Committee. On the issue of school funding, the Muenster Republican defends the laws enacted last year to boost the state’s share of education costs and try to rein in local property taxes. But he indicated that he wants to see teacher pay boosted further, even with the state’s coming revenue challenges. The district’s fast-growing areas have pressing transportation needs, too, and Springer showed a willingness to fight for that funding from general state revenue and Texas’ rainy day fund to avoid expansion of toll roads. Springer also offers a thoughtful critique of Gov. Greg Abbott’s steps to deal with the pandemic. He said he wants to ensure that emergency powers have a time limit and that there’s a mechanism to ensure the Legislature has more say, even if it’s not in session. And he noted the need to ensure that emergency orders affect rural areas differently than Texas’ big urban centers.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 18, 2020

Texas Tech establishes scholarships named for George Floyd, Tim Cole

Two recently established scholarships supported by Texas Tech University will bear the names of Black men who have died while in the custody of the criminal justice system. One scholarship will be named for Tim Cole while the other will be named for George Floyd. Cole, a Fort Worth native, died in 1999 in prison after serving 13 years for a crime he did not commit. Cole was convicted of raping a classmate at Texas Tech University in 1985, but was later cleared by DNA evidence and the confession of the man who said he committed the sexual assault.

Floyd, 46, who never made it to trial, died on May 25 after having a Minneapolis police officer’s knee pressed against his neck for nearly nine minutes. That former officer, Derek Chauvin, was arrested and is facing murder and manslaughter charges in connection with Floyd’s death. Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase a package of cigarettes. According to reporting from KAMC Television, efforts to raise the scholarship funding were initiated by the Texas Tech University Black Student Association. The scholarships will provide financial support to current and future Texas Tech students active in serving organizations working to assist minority communities, the KAMC story said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2020

Some Texas teachers fear return to in-person classes. But they’re afraid to speak up.

Angela Guthrie received a call in early August from an assistant principal at Summit High School, where she teaches advanced placement English. The school, which is part of the Mansfield Independent School District, needed one teacher for online classes and another for in-person classes. Guthrie’s mother has terminal cancer, so she asked to teach virtually even though one of her favorite places for the past 25 years has been in a classroom teaching her students about language and composition. “I said, ‘I think it would be best for my mom because she can’t get COVID. That way, I can spend as much time as possible with her without risk of exposing her,’ ” Guthrie said.

The assistant principal called her back the next day and said the school had decided to put another person in the virtual teaching position and have Guthrie teach in person, Guthrie said. “He said my AP scores were so high that they needed me in person in front of those kids because that’s what’s best for students,” she said. “It made me feel like they don’t care at all about teachers.” “They only care about student test scores and what looks best for the district,” she added. Across the state, many teachers are concerned they have been pushed to return to in-person lessons or risk losing their jobs. And there are secondary concerns about finding substitutes when teachers fall ill and about the long-term effects of the situation on the number of people who choose the teaching profession.

KERA - September 17, 2020

Former gang members serve as peacemakers in new Dallas 'Violence Interrupters' initiative

When Dallas resident Marcus Estelle was 18 years old, he was sentenced to 255 years in prison for aggravated robbery. “You know, I got spanked! And I take that responsibility,” Estelle, who’s now 46, said. Estelle, who goes by Big Milk, grew up in the neighborhood of Pleasant Grove and was formerly in a Bloods gang called Teenage Mob. For that arrest he ended up serving 13 years in prison, and said that experience served as an "awakening." “The same streets that I helped destroy, I gotta build. So that very thing that caused my demise has caused my arise,” Estelle said. Now, he’s a member of Urban Specialists, a group of former gang members that’s joining forces with the City of Dallas as part of a new "Violence Interrupters" program that’s focused on ending violence.

Police statistics show violent crime has increased in the city of Dallas this year. At a city Public Safety Committee meeting on Monday, city leaders theorize that the uptick in recent months might be related to stress from the COVID-19 or financial problems. According to the Dallas Morning News, Dallas police have reported 162 homicides this year, which is 12 more than at this time a year ago. City leaders are looking for solutions to reduce it. Violence Interrupters is one of several recommendations made in January 2020 by the Mayor’s Task Force on Safe Communities. The proposed budget by the city manager states this program will “establish violence interrupters — credible individuals who serve as mentors and conflict resolution experts to curb violence from within their neighborhoods...as part of the City’s Reimagining Public Safety effort.” It would cost $750,000. One question now is: Will the city vote to fund and launch it in January 2021? “From an economic standpoint one shooting could cost upward of a million dollars. Now from a financial standpoint you can run one of these programs with about 12 members for about $500,000,” Dr. Howard Henderson, Founding Director of the Center for Justice Research at Texas Southern University in Houston said.

Victoria Advocate - September 16, 2020

Patrick Mitchell: The saga of HB2504 is not over yet

(Patrick Mitchell is the chair of the Victoria County Libertarian Party and one of the state organizers for the Libertarian Party Mises Caucus.) Recently the Democratic Party had several Green party candidates kicked off the ballot in Texas. The Republican Party tried to do the same to several Libertarian Party candidates, but luckily the 3rd Court of Appeals dismissed it. The Republicans were not satisfied with that and decided to take it to the Texas Supreme Court. Luckily, that failed too, and the Supreme Court voted it down 7-0. Two of the members recused themselves since they are running for re-election against Libertarian candidates.

One of the Republicans involved in that lawsuit is our Congressman Michael Cloud. He was trying to get Libertarian candidate Phil Gray kicked off the ballot. This is just another example of corruption by the two old parties. The Republicans and Democrats have done everything they can to keep third party candidates like Jo Jorgensen out of the debates by requiring 15% in polls that will not even include her name in them, and Republicans like Michael Cloud tried to get Libertarians kicked off the ballot based on rules that basically do not even apply to Republicans and Democrats. Those rules involve filing fees. In Texas, a party can be either a primary party or a convention party. Primary party candidates must pay the filing fees as those fees are intended to cover the expenses of the primary elections. HB2504, which was passed in 2019, forced convention party candidates to pay the same filing fees even though they do not even participate in primaries as they get nominated at a convention. Primary parties are then eligible for refunds that convention party candidates are not. Libertarians won an injunction against these filing fees last December, so for at least this election they would not have to pay them.

Business Insider - September 18, 2020

US billionaires' wealth grew by $845 billion during the first six months of the pandemic

The richest people in the United States have become $845 billion wealthier during the first six months of the pandemic, with likes of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett all registering big increases, a report said Thursday. The Institute for Policy Studies, a left-leaning think-tank, and Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) said the total net worth of 643 of the nation's richest people rose from $2.95 trillion to $3.8 trillion between March 18 and September 15. The calculations are based on data using Forbes' annual billionaires report and real-time Forbes data.

That marks a 29% increase from the rough date at which coronavirus lockdowns started and financial markets went into free-fall. The stock market has since recovered, with the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq hitting record highs, but Covid-19 has killed nearly 200,000 Americans and the economy is still mired in recession. Chuck Collins, director of the Institute for Policy Studies' Program on Inequality, said: "The difference is stark between profits for billionaires and the widespread economic misery in our nation. Clearly, the priorities of our elected officials in Washington, DC are completely upside down." Bezos, the chief executive of leading online retailer Amazon, has undoubtedly been the biggest beneficiary of the pandemic. His wealth rose by $73.2 billion to $113 billion. Amazon shares have gained 40% this year, as the company racked up billions in online orders for anything from groceries to exercise bikes from consumers who were confined to their homes.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2020

No Houston police contract talks planned, dimming reform possibilities, advocates say

Mayor Sylvester Turner appears unlikely to renegotiate a contract with Houston police officers, a setback to advocates who saw negotiations as a means to reform the Houston Police Department and make bargaining meetings available for public viewing. If no new deal is reached, an “evergreen” provision will kick in to continue the current contract and give HPD officers a 2 percent raise next year. The city’s contract with the Houston Police Officers’ Union is set to run out at the end of the year. If either side wants to cancel the contract and renegotiate, the agreement requires 90 days’ notice to the other party, which means the latest time for notice would be the beginning of October.

Union representatives and city officials met just once this year before contract negotiations were upended by the spread of COVID, said Douglas Griffith, the union’s vice president. “We’re in no hurry,” Griffith said. “It’s not like it’s going to run out tomorrow. We have plenty of time.” As law enforcement has come under intense scrutiny after the murder of longtime Houston resident George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer earlier this year, criminal justice advocates in Houston and across the country have targeted union contracts as one way to reform departments. They have called for greater transparency during negotiations, pointing to actions in Austin that led to significant reforms to that city’s police department. In the months since Floyd’s death, cities and states elsewhere have enacted significant reforms such as those in Austin, where the police budget was trimmed, or in Colorado, which passed legislation curtailing qualified immunity (which protects officers from many legal actions). In Houston, however, city council passed a new budget increasing the allocation for police by $20 million, driven by a contractually agreed raise that took effect in July.

Houston Chronicle - September 17, 2020

$750K COVID relief grant allows Houston nonprofit to help keep families in their homes

Shondra Adams, the mother of twins Caleb and Caden, has been working three jobs to support her family throughout the pandemic. When the family got behind on rent at their Southwest Houston dwelling, Communities in Schools of Houston, a nonprofit that partners with education leaders and community organizations to support students in their time of need, gave the Adams family a $1,500 stipend to help them get back on their feet.

“It was truly a blessing,” said Shondra, whose family has been involved with CIS since the twins were in third grade. Caleb and Caden are now freshmen at Hastings High School in Alief. “I always tell my kids, ‘with different things that might happen in your life, just because you’re at a certain point, doesn’t mean you have to stay there.’” The Adams are one of the 506 families that CIS helped as part of the nonprofit’s $750,000 grant from the Harris County COVID-19 Relief Fund. From March 15 through the end of July, CIS has helped around 15,000 students in the greater Houston area, whether virtually or in-person. “Our mission is to surround kids with a community of support to enable them to stay in school and achieve in life,” said CIS Director of Development Donna Wotkyns. “This funding significantly helped our students and our families to be able to worry less.”

Austin American-Statesman - September 17, 2020

Austin’s Asian community outnumbers Black residents for first time, Census data show

For the first time in the history of Austin, Asian American residents now outnumber Black people in the city, according to the latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau. The data from the bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey show that Austin is now home to 80,117 Asian people, compared to 76,480 Black residents. Austin’s Asian community is now the second-largest in the state behind only Houston, a city more than twice the size of Texas’ capital. The American Community Survey population estimates are based on data collected before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest numbers show an abrupt about-face in the growth of Black residents living in Austin. From 2010 to 2018, the number of Black residents grew 29% from 63,504 residents to 82,148, outpacing the city’s overall growth in population over that same period, along with increases in Latino and white segments of the population. The 2019 numbers show a sudden decrease of nearly 5,700 Black residents. “I think it is fairly obvious and fairly predictable,” said Nelson Linder, president of Austin’s local NAACP. “Central Austin and what used to be East Austin are no longer an option for Black people in the city.” Meanwhile, the city’s Asian population has grown 71% since 2010 -- and that community’s wages have increased sharply to a median income of $95,000, the highest among all demographics. Marina Ong Bhargava, chief executive of the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce, said she was not surprised by the increases given the overall population trends of Austin’s Asian community in recent years as well as the city’s growth as a technology center. “It is driven by the kind of jobs that are being created in Austin,” Bhargava said. “More recently, we have become a much bigger tech center, and if you look at tech industry, Asians are over represented in IT, engineers especially and of course in health care as well — a lot of the STEM fields. For reasons I cannot explain, America is not producing enough of those skills and so we end up importing those.”

National Stories

Associated Press - September 18, 2020

At town hall, Biden blasts Trump’s ‘criminal’ virus response

Joe Biden on Thursday went after President Donald Trump again and again over his handling of COVID-19, calling Trump’s downplaying of the pandemic “criminal” and his administration “totally irresponsible.” “You’ve got to level with the American people — shoot from the shoulder. There’s not been a time they’ve not been able to step up. The president should step down,” the Democratic presidential nominee said to applause from a CNN drive-in town hall crowd in Moosic, outside his hometown of Scranton. Speaking about Trump’s admission that he publicly played down the impact of the virus while aware of its severity, Biden declared: “He knew it and did nothing. It’s close to criminal.”

Later, Biden decried Americans’ loss of basic “freedoms” as the U.S. has struggled to contain the pandemic, like the ability to go to a ballgame or walk around their neighborhoods. “I never, ever thought I would see just such a thoroughly, totally irresponsible administration,” he said. Biden faced a half-dozen questions about the coronavirus and a potential vaccine in the town hall from moderator Anderson Cooper and audience members. The pandemic was not just the main topic of the night — it was the cause of the unusual format of the event: a drive-in with 35 cars outside PNC Field. The cars were parked around the stage, each with small groups of people standing outside them or leaning or sitting on the hoods to watch Cooper and Biden onstage. The network erected blue and red spotlights over the dirt and gravel parking lot to make it easier to see, and each parking space was marked off with white chalk in large rectangles to ensure that each group stayed more than 6 feet (1.8 meters) apart. The town hall marked the first time that Biden had faced live, unscripted questions from voters since winning the nomination. Trump participated in a town hall Tuesday in an auditorium in Philadelphia.

NPR - September 17, 2020

Military confirms it sought information on using 'heat ray' against D.C. protesters

A spokesperson for Joint Forces Headquarters Command in Washington, D.C., confirmed to NPR that hours before federal police officers cleared a crowded park near the White House with smoke and tear gas on June 1, a military police staff officer asked if the D.C. National Guard had a kind of "heat ray" weapon that might be deployed against demonstrators in the nation's capital. Col. Robert Phillips, a spokesperson for the Joint Force Headquarters-National Capital Region, or JFHQ-NCR, said the inquiry was made "as a matter of due diligence and prudent military planning."

The command "inquired informally about capabilities across the full-spectrum of non-lethal systems, to include the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) and Active Denial System (ADS)," Phillips told NPR in a written statement. "JFHQ-NCR does not possess these systems, did not request such systems, and no further action was taken as a result of the officer's E-Mail query." This statement comes hours after NPR obtained and published written responses to the House Committee on Natural Resources from Maj. Adam DeMarco of the D.C. National Guard, who revealed he had been copied on an email from the provost marshal of Joint Force Headquarters. The email said the top military police officer in D.C. was looking for two things: a Long Range Acoustic Device, a kind of sound cannon known as an LRAD, and a device called the Active Denial System, or ADS. The military developed the ADS some 20 years ago as a way to disperse crowds. There have been questions about whether it worked, or should be deployed in the first place. It uses millimeter wave technology essentially to heat the skin of people targeted by its invisible ray.

New York Times - September 17, 2020

N.Y.C. will again delay start of in-person classes for most students

Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday once again delayed the start of most in-person classes in the New York City public schools, acknowledging that the system had still not fully surmounted the many obstacles that it faced in bringing children back during the pandemic. The abrupt announcement was a blow to the mayor’s effort to make New York one of the few major cities in the nation to hold in-person classes. And it threatened to deepen concerns and confusion over whether the mayor and his administration had mishandled the reopening by announcing deadlines and then pushing them back. Instead of a triumphant return to schools for all students who wanted in-person learning beginning on Monday, the city will phase students back into classrooms on a rolling basis, starting with the youngest children, who will report to schools next week.

Students in pre-K classes and students with advanced special needs will return on Monday. On Sept. 29, elementary schools will open, and middle and high schools will open on Oct. 1. All other students will begin the school year remotely on Monday, meaning New York now joins a long list of other big cities that will begin the school year online for most students. During a Thursday news conference, Mr. de Blasio declined to apologize to city parents for the potentially major inconveniences caused by the 11th-hour shift. He asserted that, because the city’s public school parents were largely low-income and lived outside of Manhattan, “they are people who understand the realities of life, and they’re not shocked when something this difficult has to be adjusted from time to time. “They’re a lot more pragmatic than you might imagine,” the mayor added.

McClatchy - September 16, 2020

Trump’s approval steady after RNC, Gallup says. How does it compare to past presidents?

President Donald Trump’s job approval rating has held steady around 40% after the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, according to a new Gallup poll. And that could be a bad sign for Trump’s reelection prospects, if history is any indication. Trump’s rating stayed at 42% in a Gallup poll conducted Aug. 31-Sept. 13, which is the same approval he had in an earlier poll in August. In July, his approval rating was the lowest in all of 2020, at 38%, after falling from his personal high of 49% in May. The poll has a margin of error of four percentage points.

Americans’ views of the president are strongly based on party identification. Ninety-two percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s job in office, compared to 36% of independents and 4% of Democrats, according to Gallup. In August, 90% of Republicans approved of his job as president, along with 39% of independents and 5% of Democrats. Trump received comparisons to one-term presidents George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter when his rating dipped below 40% in July in a Gallup poll. Historically, incumbent presidents who went on to be reelected reached at least 50% approval at this point. At 42% in September of his election year, Trump’s approval is behind that of Barack Obama, who had a 49% approval during the same time period in 2012 as he faced off against Mitt Romney. George W. Bush was at 52%, Bill Clinton had 60% approval and Ronald Reagan was at 57%.

Nevada Independent - September 17, 2020

Addressing climate change, sprawl, lawmakers advance proposal expanding fuel taxes to cover ‘transportation infrastructure’

Since 1940, Nevada has followed a straightforward rule: any tax or fee on gasoline, car registration or driver licenses has to be allocated toward the “construction, maintenance, and repair” of the state’s more than 5,000 miles of public highways. But between desires to limit urban sprawl and address root causes of climate change, Nevada lawmakers are considering moving forward with a proposed constitutional amendment that would open up use of gas taxes and other automobile-related fees to more than just road construction and repair. Members of the Interim Legislative Committee on Energy voted Wednesday to move forward with a potential constitutional amendment broadening existing, narrow provisions on fuel taxes to instead allow for those tax dollars to fund the broader category of “transportation infrastructure.”

The two Republican members of the committee, Sen. Scott Hammond and Assemblywoman Jill Tolles, voted against the recommendation. Although labor unions and construction associations expressed concern with the proposed change — stating that the state’s highway funding is already inadequate and should be increased, not divided — lawmakers on the committee said it was a necessary piece to modernize the state’s transportation funding structure and limit greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. The vote Wednesday is just the first step in a potential change to the state Constitution. Approval means the committee will submit the proposed change as a bill draft request, but it still would need to pass out of the 2021 and 2023 Legislatures before going on the ballot in the 2024 election for possible approval by voters. Democratic Sen. Chris Brooks said a change to the constitutional language was “long overdue,” adding that lawmakers had a responsibility to update language added to the state’s Constitution in 1940 that he said no longer matched the state’s transportation priorities in 2020. “We had conversations with all the different (Regional Transportation Systems) and stakeholders and community groups, and we kept hitting a roadblock,” Brooks said. “The roadblock was the very strict and narrow language of the constitution, as it was proposed 83 years ago.”

September 17, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

Why Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson, a former Democratic state lawmaker, isn’t weighing in on White House race

Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson is sticking to his pledge to not get involved in this year’s White House race – or any other partisan contest – even at time when recent polls suggest that Texas may be a true battleground state for the first time in decades. The mayor, a former Democratic state representative, reiterated this week in a written statement that he’s “committed to not endorsing candidates in partisan races while serving as mayor.” His hands-off approach – while not that unusual, given that the mayorship in Dallas is a nonpartisan position – stands in contrast to the style of his predecessor, former Mayor Mike Rawlings, who was more willing to wade into presidential politics while in office.

Rawlings, then in the waning days of his time in office, last year offered Joe Biden a full-throated endorsement even before the former vice president had locked up the Democratic nomination to take on President Donald Trump. But Johnson has explained his view that “it’s important that we keep nonpartisan offices nonpartisan,” saying earlier this year that not participating in the election cycle, “in terms of an endorsement, I feel like that’s good for Dallas.” “I don’t think we advance the cause of Dallas by throwing darts at people who we might need to go to for something like a tornado recovery,” he said in February during an interview with The Texas Tribune’s Evan Smith. Many local leaders in Texas prize municipal politics' nonpartisan nature, arguing that it helps avoid some of the gridlock and tribalism present in Washington and Austin. That ideal isn’t always reality; Dallas city leaders are in the midst of a contentious fight over police funding. Johnson is far from the first Dallas mayor to err on the side of non-engagement in partisan races, and particularly those contests that extend beyond the Lone Star State. Even Rawlings didn’t become as vocal on the national political stage until later in his mayoral tenure. “Early on, I felt that same way,” the former mayor said.

Austin American-Statesman - September 17, 2020

How Paxton backed GOP, opposed Democrats in legal fight over minor party candidates

In the legal fight to exclude minor party candidates from the November ballot, Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton took a flexible view of time and deadlines. After the Texas GOP filed suit Aug. 21 to remove 44 Libertarians from the ballot for failure to pay a required candidate filing fee, Paxton told the Texas Supreme Court that there was plenty of time to pursue the challenge. This week, however, Paxton told the same court that a Democratic bid to oust three Green Party candidates — filed four days before the unsuccessful GOP challenge — was begun much too late and needed to be overturned.

“The (Democrats’) dilatory conduct and unjustified delay in seeking relief imposed an undue burden on the Green Party officials,” Paxton told the court in a brief filed Monday. Tuesday afternoon, the all-Republican Supreme Court accommodated Paxton, ruling in favor of the Green Party and ordering county election officials statewide to reinstate the three candidates — David Collins for U.S. Senate, Katija “Kat” Gruene for Railroad Commission and Tommy Wakely for the 21st Congressional District — on Nov. 3 ballots, some of which had already been printed and mailed to voters. The ruling touched off a frantic scramble by election officials who must send military and overseas ballots by Saturday. The court did not explain its reasoning, saying only that a written ruling will follow. The Supreme Court typically releases opinions on Friday mornings. How did the courts get to this point, particularly with key election deadlines already passed and others looming? Generally, Libertarians receive votes that would otherwise go to Republicans, while Greens have the same effect on Democratic candidates.

Texas Monthly - September 16, 2020

Build the Ike Dike!

Following Texas politics via social media can be dangerous to your mental health. Instead of doing their jobs, our elected officials seem to spend their days engaged in online mortal combat. Ted Cruz challenges Hellboy actor Ron Perlman to fight an Ohio congressman, and John Cornyn responds to negotiations over a COVID-19 relief bill with “blah blah blah.” The Republican Party of Texas, comfortable in its near-total control of the state for a quarter century, can’t run a Zoom meeting. It’s enough to drive you mad. Whenever I feel the brain worms coming on, however, I just close my eyes and let loose with my new mantra: build the Ike Dike. Nabokov himself might have engineered such a phrase. The quadrisyllabic sentence shifts from soft consonants to aggressive k’s like raindrops from an intensifying storm falling onto a leaky roof. Build. The. Ike. Dike.

My mantra calms me, but it’s also an attempt to turn attention from distracting culture-wars nonsense to more important matters. Every corner of the state has its needs, but in my neck of the woods we face a Houston-size problem: the city is uniquely vulnerable to what could be one of the greatest environmental disasters in American history, and few Texas politicians are doing a damned thing about it. The Greater Houston region is home to more than seven million people. It also hosts the largest concentration of petrochemical complexes in the U.S. Gasoline, jet fuel, plastics, fertilizers, and all manner of chemicals are refined and stored at these facilities. Many of them emit toxic pollutants, including carcinogens. Yet their products are critical to the Texas economy. And the whole thing is clustered around the Port of Houston—one of the busiest ports in the U.S. in terms of foreign trade, and an inland hub for around two hundred public and private terminals serviced by the 52-mile Houston Ship Channel. That “inland” part is important. In 1900, the region’s most critical port, Galveston, was destroyed by a massive hurricane that to this day remains the deadliest natural disaster in U.S. history. As many as 12,000 died, and no building on the island was left unscathed. Ten years later, Houstonians approved local funding (matched by federal dollars) to build a channel and a port that would fill the economic gap and be better protected from nature’s fury. That protection would be tested by several significant hurricanes over the next century, but none of the storms was as alarming as 2008’s Hurricane Ike, which struck southeast Texas, killing at least 74 Texans and inflicting roughly $30 billion in damage across three states. Despite that fallout, Houston was lucky that the storm veered east at the last minute. If Ike had struck a couple dozen miles farther west, the counterclockwise spin of the storm would have driven a mass of seawater directly into Galveston Bay and up the Ship Channel. And if that storm had been just a little bit stronger?

Axios - September 16, 2020

Trump contradicts CDC chief on when vaccine will be widely available

President Trump claimed at a press briefing on Wednesday that CDC director Robert Redfield was wrong when he testified to Congress that a coronavirus vaccine won't be available for widespread distribution until the second or third quarter of 2021. Why it matters: Trump has already faced criticism for allegations that his administration has politicized the coronavirus response and is seeking rapid approval and distribution of a vaccine in order to boost his re-election campaign. Trump went on later in the briefing to say Redfield was wrong when he said that masks are "more guaranteed" to protect against the coronavirus than a vaccine: "As far as the masks are concerned, he made a mistake."

The president's contradiction of Redfield, who he said was probably "confused," may further erode public trust. The big picture: A vaccine has not been submitted for the FDA to review, and even that may not happen by Trump's aggressive October estimate for distribution. Whenever a vaccine is approved, it will take several more months to manufacture enough of it to begin vaccinating the general public. Redfield testified on Wednesday that a vaccine could be available for first responders and vulnerable populations by November or December, but that it will take six to nine months before it can be distributed nationally. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the project tasked with developing a vaccine by January, has also said it is "extremely unlikely" that widespread distribution will be possible by October or November. What he's saying: "I think [Redfield] made a mistake when he said that. It's just incorrect information. I called him, and he didn't tell me that. I think he got the message maybe confused, maybe it was stated incorrectly," Trump said.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2020

Erica Grieder: Texas AG Paxton draws 2022 challenger who vows to work across the aisle

Joe Jaworski, a mediator and former Galveston mayor, is not a fan of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican first elected to statewide office in 2014. “I have always thought the attorney general should be the attorney for the people, not a particular political party or ideology,” he told me Tuesday. That may sound naive to Texans who’ve followed state politics in recent years. But Jaworski, a Democrat, has a unique vantage point as the grandson of the late Leon Jaworski, the Houston lawyer and one-time Nuremberg prosecutor who gained fame as the second special prosecutor during the Watergate scandal.

Jaworski said his grandfather — “the Colonel,” to family members — put country over party. A Democrat, he became disillusioned with the party after Lyndon Johnson’s administration and voted for Richard Nixon twice. His legal clash with Nixon over Oval Office audio recordings culminated in Nixon’s resignation in 1974. “Leon Jaworski was always on the right side of history, and that is a meaning that I feel very strongly about,” Joe Jaworski said of his grandfather. Joe Jaworski announced his own bid for attorney general last week, getting an early start in a bid to unseat Paxton, a Republican, in 2022. Jaworski doesn’t expect to be the only Democrat vying for the job. But Paxton might as well be on the ballot this cycle, Jaworski argued. Some of Paxton’s peers in statewide office have laid low this election cycle, or focused their efforts on fundraising for downballot GOP candidates. But the attorney general, who continues to fight his own five-year-old indictment for felony securities fraud, has vigorously inserted himself into the political fray. Over the past week, for example, Paxton has continued to pursue his lawsuit against Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins over the latter’s plan to send every registered voter in the county an application for a mail-in ballot.

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: BP buries a dagger into the heart of the oil industry

Et tu British Petroleum? BP has joined a growing number of oil and gas companies that recognize the industry’s best days are in the rearview mirror, anticipating that oil use will peak within 10 years. The company’s new Energy Outlook asks not whether demand will drop, only how soon and how quickly. The London-based energy company is not the first to plunge a dagger into the back of the oil industry. Royal Dutch Shell predicted in 2018 that oil demand would peak in the late 2020s. Smaller industry forecasters have also made similar predictions. Stubborn industry loyalists should heed these warnings, even if U.S. oil producers still dream of oil markets growing indefinitely. Consumer demand is shrinking, which will leave companies with three options: expand market share, diversify the product line, or wind the business down.

The easiest way to grow market share is to slash prices below what competitors can match. OPEC leader Saudi Arabia and its partner Russia have adopted this strategy, keeping international oil prices around $40 for most of the year. Most U.S. companies cannot survive at that price point. Some industry analysts, especially those contracted by U.S. firms, predict that once the Coronavirus Recession recedes and people travel again, the price of oil will shoot up. They even expect the price will rise high enough to grow demand for expensive fracked oil from American wells. BP’s demand outlook, though, argues otherwise. The company’s economists say oil demand will barely surpass 2019 levels. OPEC and Russia are holding back 1.5 million barrels a day, more than enough to keep prices low if they choose. Russian officials made it pretty clear in April that they want prices around $40 a barrel to keep the U.S. industry from making a comeback. Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations are learning to live with these lower prices. Most U.S. oil is simply too expensive compared with Saudi, Russian and other OPEC resources. And if BP is correct about a flat demand curve, OPEC nations with few other income streams will fiercely defend their market share.

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2020

Houston Democrats to USPS leaders: Why are dozens of post offices rejecting voter materials?

Two Houston lawmakers have asked local United States Postal Service leaders to explain why dozens of post offices across the city are refusing to accept donations of voter registration applications, escalating a controversy with weeks left until the deadline to register. U.S. Reps. Sylvia Garcia and Al Green, both Democrats from Houston, sent a letter Friday requesting a copy of any directives “specifically explaining on what grounds post offices reject donations of blank voter registrations.” They asked for a response by this Friday.

The issue first came to light earlier this month when Garcia and Green, after touring the Postal Service’s north Houston processing and distribution center, said workers at 13 Houston-area post offices had told volunteers from the League of Women Voters they could not bring voter registration cards into the facilities. By Friday, lawmakers said in their letter, more than 20 post offices had refused to accept and display the applications, while the League of Women Voters — a century-old nonpartisan group — now says at least 51 locations across the region rejected or discarded the materials, although staff at some sites said they would keep the cards behind the counter and provide them upon request. At 19 locations, post office workers accepted the voter registration materials and have placed them in public areas where customers can access them, according to League of Women Voters officials. The materials are provided in various languages based on U.S. Census Bureau data for the surrounding neighborhood. The League of Women Voters wrote to Green’s House office this week requesting a congressional investigation of the matter, said Annie Benifield, vice president of voter services for the League’s Houston chapter.

Houston Chronicle - September 16, 2020

Harris County to spend $1.5M on vendor to print mail ballots, expecting record usage

For the first time, Harris County will pay a third-party vendor to print mail ballots, a move intended to help the county clerk handle what is expected to be a record number of requests for absentee voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved $1.5 million to hire Arizona firm Runbeck Election Services to print up to 1.5 million ballots for this fall’s presidential election. That figure may end up smaller, however, because Attorney General Ken Paxton so far has thwarted Harris County’s plan to send mail ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters. To date, the County Clerk’s Office has received 187,552 mail ballot applications; the deadline to apply is Oct. 23. County Clerk Chris Hollins said the 1.5 million figure is the high estimate, so the county can ensure it can handle any volume of mail ballots.

Planning to use an outside vendor to print ballots began last year, as the county prepared for potentially record turnout in a presidential election, Hollins spokeswoman Elizabeth Lewis said. “General elections have higher turnout both for voting by mail and in-person voting than primary and midterms,” Lewis said. The pandemic has shifted voter behavior, with more residents exercising the absentee option to avoid potentially crowded polling places. During the July primary runoff, the first since COVID-19 arrived in March, 36 percent of voters cast mail ballots. If a similar proportion do so in the general election, using Harris County’s 2016 turnout of 61 percent, 529,000 mail ballots would be cast. That number, however, may be determined by a lawsuit filed by Paxton against Harris County. Mail ballot applications are available online, though Hollins had planned to send one to each registered voter as a way to encourage more participation.

Dallas Morning News - September 17, 2020

Dallas County reports 6 COVID-19 deaths, 311 coronavirus cases; eight-county area tops 2,000 deaths

Dallas County reported six new COVID-19 deaths and 311 additional coronavirus cases on Wednesday. Meanwhile, combined with daily death reports from the nearby counties of Collin, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Rockwall and Tarrant, the entire eight-county region eclipsed 2,000 confirmed deaths on Wednesday. The latest victims include three Dallas residents: a man in his 60s and a woman in her 80s, both of whom had underlying, high-risk health conditions, and a woman in her 90s who had no underlying conditions.

Of the newly reported cases, 298 were collected in September and are considered new. Of the remaining 13 cases, 12 were from August and one was from July. Eighty-six of the cases announced Wednesday, including the 13 older ones, came from the state’s reporting system. The newly confirmed cases bring the county’s total to 76,149. The death toll is approaching 1,000, with the latest fatalities pushing the number to 985. According to a county report, 15 percent of all cases logged in September have been in people 18 to 22 years old. It’s the highest share that people in that age range have had since the pandemic started. “With the weather getting cooler, it is more comfortable to be outside, and it’s very important to stay out of indoor settings where masks cannot be worn one hundred percent of the time,” Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a written statement. Separately, the county has reported 3,637 probable cases and 11 probable COVID-19 deaths.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

‘Texas is going to be red forever,’ GOP leader says in rallying crowd at ‘MAGA Meetup’

Roughly 150 mostly maskless people filled spaced-out seats at the Georgetown Community Center as they eagerly awaited the arrival of Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel during a “MAGA Meetup” put on by the Trump Victory organization Wednesday. But it was Texas GOP Chairman Allen West who received the earliest ovation of the afternoon when he made a surprise appearance nearly 30 minutes before McDaniel took the stage. “Why is it so quiet in here?” West asked as the community center started to fill out. The buzz West created was immediately visible as people formed a line in an attempt to snag a photo with the state’s new GOP Chair.

As the line started to shorten, McDaniel and RNC co-chair Tommy Hicks arrived to a roaring ovation. After a brief introduction, McDaniel quickly went after Democrats in front of a mostly filled room of energetic supporters holding Trump yard signs and “Keep America Great” posters. “This election exemplifies the choice of the America that we are going to have for our future generations like no other," McDaniel said. Democrats want to fundamentally transform this nation into a nation that we will not recognize. “They want to strip down the Constitution. They want to get rid of what the founders put on this Earth which was blessed by God, and they want to take it down to bare bones and turn us into Venezuela or Cuba,” she added. “We will have no place else to go if we lose America in this election.” McDaniel riled up the crowd by saying Democrats want to take away the right to bear arms, lower the voting age, stack the Supreme Court with liberals and fundamentally transform the country with policies that run counter to conservative values.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

Virus brings Mexican toilet paper to the U.S.

Toilet paper is back on store shelves. But you may not recognize some of the brands. Demand for toilet paper has been so high during the pandemic that to keep shelves stocked, retailers are buying up foreign toilet paper brands, mostly from Mexico. Major chains, across the country, including CVS, Piggly Wiggly, Safeway, 7-Eleven and others, are carrying the international brands. In recent weeks, a CVS in New York has been selling three Mexican brands: Regio, Hoteles Elite and Daisy Soft. Mexico’s Petalo was on the shelves of a Piggly Wiggly in Sister Bay, Wis. And a Safeway supermarket in Fremont, Calif., had those brands plus Vogue, whose label says in Spanish that it smells like chamomile.

The stores said they needed to get creative during the pandemic and started working with new suppliers to get shoppers what they needed. But don’t worry about popular U.S. brands like Charmin — they aren’t going to disappear. Supply chain experts expect the Mexican and other foreign-made rolls to be on store shelves only temporarily, until U.S. manufacturers catch up with demand. Americans use much more toilet paper than other countries, according to Patrick Penfield, a supply chain professor at the Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University, which is why Mexico can handle shipping more rolls to the United States. Stores have done this with other products during the pandemic, he said, bringing Mexican-made hand sanitizer to the U.S. when there was a shortage. Americans, of course, buy products that are made all over the world, but most of the toilet paper they use is made in the U.S. Toilet paper is inexpensive and takes up a lot of space in trucks and ships, so it doesn’t justify the cost of importing it from other countries. That has left the toilet paper aisle with the same familiar brands, causing some shoppers to do a double take when they see a new brand name.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

Texans in Congress demand that Russia release ex-Marine from Fort Worth

A bipartisan group of Texas congressmen are fighting to bring home former Marine Trevor Reed, recently given a nine-year prison sentence in Russia for what his lawyers and the State Department say are false charges. Republican Reps. Michael McCaul and Mike Conaway will introduce a resolution on Wednesday to put pressure on the Kremlin to release Reed, who was born in Fort Worth and was pursuing a degree in international studies at the University of North Texas. He has already been in Russian custody for over a year. They will be joined by Reed’s mother, Paula Reed of Granbury, at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol.

“Hopefully, the resolution will help raise awareness about Trevor’s case and pressure the Putin regime to send him, and other wrongly detained U.S. citizens home,” said Sophica Seid, press secretary for the Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans, in a press release. As of Wednesday, co-sponsors of the resolution include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and 19 other representatives from across Texas, including Fort Worth Reps. Marc Veasey, a Democrat, and Kay Granger, a Republican, along with Democrats Joaquin Castro, Henry Cuellar, Bill Flores, Vicente Gonzalez and Al Green, and Republicans Jodey Arrington, Brian Babin, Dan Crenshaw, Louie Gohmert, Lance Gooden, Will Hurd, Kenny Marchant, Chip Roy, Van Taylor, Mac Thornberry, Randy Weber and Roger Williams. Reed was charged with “assaulting and endangering the lives of two police officers” after drinking heavily one night in August 2019, according to the New York Times. But his family and lawyers maintain that he did not attack the officers.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

Mitchell Schnurman: Unhealthy Texas? By many measures, the state ranks near the bottom on health care, and COVID-19 will test those vulnerabilities

In many ways, Texas is an unhealthy state, and that was true before the pandemic. It ranks dead last in health insurance coverage, for children as well as adults. Residents are much more likely to skip care because of the costs and to not have a primary doctor. A whopping 75% of adults don’t get appropriate flu and pneumonia vaccines — tying Louisiana for the worst uptake in the country. The mortality rate is higher for conditions that could be treated, and for Black Texans, it’s much higher still.

Health care is no bargain here, either. The cost of employee insurance, measured as a share of median income, is almost 21% higher in Texas than the U.S. average. These are among the findings of the Commonwealth Fund’s 2020 Scorecard on State Health System Performance, released on Friday. Most of the data is from 2018-19, so it predates the pandemic. But once again, Texas ranks near the bottom, and those vulnerabilities become even riskier during the COVID-19 era. “What really stands out is how little progress Texas has made in the last five years,” said David Radley, senior scientist for the fund’s program on tracking health system performance. The Commonwealth report tracks 49 health care indicators, such as the uninsured, breast cancer deaths, vaccinations and state-based funding of public health. Nine metrics improved in Texas in the past five years, including more children getting a medical home and more young kids getting vaccines. But Texas lost ground on nine measures, including potentially avoidable trips to the emergency room and adults who are obese.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 16, 2020

Tarrant County reports over 400 COVID cases in consecutive days for first time in month

Tarrant County reported 420 coronavirus cases and four deaths on Wednesday. The county has reported at least 400 new COVID-19 cases in consecutive days for the first time since Aug. 16, when more than 1,400 cases were reported in consecutive days. There have been 400 or more cases reported three days in September, including the past two days.

Of Wednesday’s cases, however, 239 are unreported cases from at least 30 days ago. The Texas Department of State Health Services’ data reporting system has found an error in its database and is working to add unreported cases. The latest deaths include a Fort Worth woman in her 50s, a Fort Worth man in his 60s, a Southlake man in his 70s, and a Fort Worth man in his 70s. All had underlying health conditions, according to officials. Tarrant County has reported a total of 45,582 COVID-19 cases, including 612 deaths and 40,077 recoveries.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2020

Nancy Cychol: Don’t let new federal rules threaten groups that coordinate organ donations

Our first-born son was 10 weeks old when he died. We were on our way home from his christening, and we were involved in a car crash. I wasn’t even back from maternity leave when we lost our son. His death devastated our family. We chose to donate organs so that others could live. Giving life to others was the only positive of this most tragic circumstance. I witnessed the modern-day miracle of transplant. I know how powerful our nation’s organ donation system is. As a health care professional, I also understand how complex that system is. And I’m worried that the system that makes these miracles happen – for me and for thousands of other donor families and transplant recipients – is at risk.

Each donation case can involve as many as 200 people. It’s carried out by trusted partners called Organ Procurement Organizations, or OPOs. These nonprofit organizations support families who have lost a loved one and coordinate the many details of matching donated organs and tissues with waiting transplant candidates. Our OPO in the Fort Worth area is called LifeGift, and it’s one of the highest-performing OPOs in the country. In fact, the U.S. has the highest performing donation and transplant system in the world. But a newly proposed regulatory change by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services puts the national donation system at risk of being dismantled. As it is currently written, the federal rule change could result in decertifying up to 75% of OPOs across the country, with no alternative for facilitating organ donation when they close. Imagine if 75% of hospitals across the country closed abruptly with no plan for how to care for their patients. While LifeGift isn’t under threat, a dramatic change to this system based on flawed data endangers the patients relying on the system to save their lives. There is a better way to increase organ donation and get more patients transplanted, and that begins with inviting all parties involved in the donation and transplant process to come together and work towards meaningful improvement.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 17, 2020

Did Dallas-Fort Worth political candidate troll residents with fake Facebook profile?

A few months ago, a newcomer named Rhyan Robert waded deep into heated political discussions on one of the most popular Facebook groups in Colleyville. As protests for George Floyd unfolded throughout the country, he applauded Colleyville for organizing a unity rally. As schools considered how to bring kids back in the fall, he questioned the efficacy of current ventilation systems. He also accused a Colleyville resident of being an anarchist and shared a photo of a Grapevine resident’s face superimposed on a Reuters photo of a KKK member. Robert’s picture on his Facebook profile shifted between a Guy Fawkes mask and the pixelated face of a middle-aged white man with eyeglasses and awkward sideburns. The profile stated he was a consultant who had recently moved to Grapevine from Austin. But plenty of people were suspicious of his real identity. Colleyville Facebook groups, some of which are highly active and have upward of 2,000 members, occasionally discuss the presence of fake accounts, accusing them of pushing political agendas.

On June 25, someone challenged Robert, noting he seemed to be a “fake troll liberal” profile. “I’m legit,” Robert replied. But nobody named Rhyan Robert exists in the entire country, according to a people search on the database LexisNexis, one of the world’s largest electronic repositories of legal and public records. The profile had all the signs of a fake: strange profile pictures, a timeline of posts that dated back only a few months, almost no interactions from other accounts on its wall. On the part of the profile where the owner of the account can enter a phone number to appear publicly, a number was listed that is associated with Tommy Snyder, a candidate for the Grapevine-Colleyville school district board election in November. The phone number was visible to people who were friends with the Robert account. It matches the one listed as belonging to Snyder on a public Fair Campaign Practices document filled out earlier this year. That number is also listed as the contact number for 1619 Capital Partners, a company that names Snyder as its president and CEO.

Austin American-Statesman - September 16, 2020

Family of Vanessa Guillen goes to Congress for introduction of reform bill

For the family of slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen, this month should have been a joyful milestone as they celebrated her 21st birthday back home in Houston. Instead, the grieving family on Wednesday joined lawmakers on Capitol Hill to campaign for legislation many supporters say could have saved the young soldier’s life. Lawmakers for months worked to bring forward the I Am Vanessa Guillen Act, previously known as the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill, that seeks to set up third-party groups to investigate and prosecute those accused of sexual misconduct within the military.

The measure also would require investigations and new guidelines into how the military responds to reports of missing soldiers. Guillen was last seen on April 22 and her disappearance remained a mystery until her remains were discovered near the Leon River in Bell County on June 30. Her family maintains that Guillen was sexually harassed by one or more fellow soldiers at Fort Hood, including Spc. Aaron Robinson, who authorities believe killed Guillen while the two worked together in a Fort Hood weapons room the day she disappeared. Robinson died July 1 after shooting himself as local police tried to detain him, authorities have said. While Army officials say they’ve found no substantial evidence that Guillen was the victim of sexual misconduct, her case brought national attention to the issue. Former and active-duty service members used the social media hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen to share personal accounts of sexual misconduct within the military, which raised public doubts about whether military leaders properly handle investigations into such matters. “Today we’re not only here for Vanessa, we are here to save lives,” said Lupe Guillen, the soldier’s 16-year-old sister, addressing lawmakers Wednesday. “We are suffering a crisis of sexual harassment and sexual assault in the U.S. Army. Sexual harassment increases every year, yet nothing is being done.

Austin American-Statesman - September 16, 2020

UT will maintain automatic admission cutoff at top 6%

The University of Texas announced Wednesday that it will not change its threshold for automatic admissions for students looking to enroll during the fall and summer semesters in 2022. Any Texas student who finishes in the top 6% of their high school graduating class will be automatically admitted, in accordance with state law. The same threshold was instituted for students matriculating in spring, summer and fall semesters in 2021 by university officials last year.

Texas law requires most public institutions of higher education in the state to automatically admit any Texas high school student who finishes in the top 10% of their graduating class, but the flagship campus in Austin has a different requirement. UT is required to set an annual threshold for automatic admission, so long as 75% of first-year students applying from within the state of Texas are automatically admitted to the school. In 2017, the university dropped its threshold from 7% to 6%, citing the state’s growing population and an increase in applicants. Since then, automatic admissions have been limited to the top 6% of graduating high school classes.

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2020

National Republicans reserve $2.2M in San Antonio TV air time

National Republicans are reserving $2.2 million in TV ads in San Antonio, and $405,000 in Midland-Odessa, in the final weeks leading up to the November election. The regions both make up portions of the 23rd Congressional District, where Republican Tony Gonzales is running in a hotly contested race to replace retiring U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes. The National Republican Congressional Committee will run the ads from Sept. 29 to Nov. 2, a GOP source confirmed Wednesday.

The 23rd is a perennial swing district that stretches from San Antonio to El Paso and covers 800 miles of border. There, Gonzales will face off against Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, who is running for a second time after nearly unseating Hurd in 2018. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already confirmed a $1 million ad reservation in San Antonio, and other third-party groups have committed hundreds of thousands of dollars to run ads against Gonzales. The non-partisan Cook Political Report has rated the 23rd district as “lean Democratic.” The area where the ads will air also includes part of the 21st Congressional District, which stretches from just inside Loop 410 on San Antonio’s North Side to downtown Austin, but also takes in Bandera and Kerrville. In that district, freshman U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, a Republican, is facing off against Democrat Wendy Davis, a former state senator who ran an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2014. The Cook Political Report has rated that race a toss-up. Midland-Odessa also includes the 11th Congressional District, though that is safely Republican.

San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2020

Sen. Ted Cruz explains why he doesn’t want to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz made it clear to supporters on a fundraising call on Tuesday night that he has no intention of becoming a Supreme Court justice. A week after President Donald Trump put the Houston-area Republican on his shortlist of potential nominees, Cruz supporters pressed him on whether he’d want to join the high court. Although Cruz has a new book about the Supreme Court coming out soon, he said it is not the right fit for him. “No, I don’t want to serve in that position,” said Cruz, 49. While a principled judge is expected to stay out of politics, “I don’t want to stay out of political fights,” Cruz said. “I don’t want to stay out of policy fights.”

Instead, Cruz said he wants to have an impact on the issues he cares most through politics. “The right place to do it is in the political arena,” Cruz said, adding he believes he can have a bigger impact in the Senate than on the Supreme Court. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Cruz was a clerk with the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Later Cruz would argue numerous cases before the Supreme Court while serving as the Texas Solicitor General. Cruz was re-elected to the U.S. Senate in 2018 and would next be up for re-election in 2024. He has made clear that he has not closed the door on running for president, telling reporters last year “I hope to run again.” Cruz ran for the White House in 2016 and became the last major challenge to Trump during the GOP nomination battle. Cruz said he was “deeply honored” to be included on Trump’s list of potential nominees and told his supporters he wants to be in a position to be “intimately involved” in nominating and confirming justices to the court in the future.

San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2020

Manufacturers weigh in on Trump vs. Biden

President Donald Trump rode to office in 2016 on a surge of skepticism toward international trade and globalization, the invisible forces that Trump described as bringing “carnage” upon American communities and sucking away all the good jobs. Four years later, both Trump and Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate, are pushing similar manufacturing plans that prioritize bringing industrial jobs back to the U.S. And amid the coronavirus pandemic this year, both candidates have called to rebuild supply chains for things such as medical devices and pharmaceutical products in the U.S., claiming breakdowns among suppliers caused shortages.

But economists and Texas manufacturing executives cautioned against presidential policies that restrict international trade and shield domestic companies from foreign competition. The result, they say, could be companies that can’t compete internationally and more expensive goods for consumers. Manufacturing leaders said the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 spurred growth within the manufacturing industry, but other areas such as infrastructure and job training haven’t received enough government spending. “The change in the tax code has obviously shifted more manufacturing to the U.S. We decided a year and half ago that we’re building a brand new manufacturing facility in Milwaukee ... And without that confidence and that support from the state, I don’t think that would've happened,” said Rod Schrader, chairman and CEO of Komatsu America Corp., an industrial equipment maker that employs about 1,000 workers at facilities in Dallas and Longview. “A growing need is workforce development,” Schrader said. “As technology grows in our industry, the skill sets are changing.”

El Paso Times - September 16, 2020

Police ID suspect after Sacred Heart of Jesus statue destroyed in St. Patrick Cathedral

El Paso police Wednesday identified the man accused of destroying the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue inside St. Patrick Cathedral. Isaiah Cantrell, 30, of the 3600 block of Fort Boulevard, was arrested Tuesday in the vandalism. Isaiah Cantrell, 30, of the 3600 block of Fort Boulevard, was arrested after a statue was destroyed in El Paso's St. Patrick Cathedral. Cantrell was charged with criminal mischief and possession of marijuana. He was booked into the El Paso County Jail in Downtown on bonds totaling $20,500. Jail records show he still was being held Wednesday afternoon.

The Catholic Diocese of El Paso said the statue was destroyed around 10 a.m. Tuesday when a man entered the sanctuary at the cathedral and destroyed the almost 90-year-old statue. It was on display behind the main altar of the church. The church was open at the time for prayer. The El Paso Police Department is investigating. The rector of St. Patrick Cathedral, the Rev. Trini Fuentes, said in a statement Tuesday: “I am in shock and we at the cathedral are heartbroken over such an unexpected situation.” Bishop Mark J. Seitz also expressed his sadness about the vandalism.

Rio Grande Guardian - September 15, 2020

Julián Castro: Latino families are suffering

Latino families are suffering. We are grieving the loss of our loved ones, while at the same time facing severe economic instability and an uncertain future. The pandemic hit close to home for my family when I lost my stepmom, Alice Guzman, earlier this month to COVID-19. It was devastating to lose a loved one and all the more painful because her death, like so many others, could have been avoided if our government had a plan for containing the pandemic. Now, across Texas, thousands are suffering as a result of failed Republican leadership. Governor Greg Abbott followed Donald Trump’s pandemic response model of “hear no evil, see no evil,” and failed to set in place critical protections to protect families. Due to this lack of leadership, Texas is now one of our nation’s hotspots for COVID-19.

As a result, Latino families across the state are contracting the virus at unprecedented rates. Families like mine are suffering the tragedy of losing a loved one while living in fear of future spread that could jeopardize the health of more of our relatives. In our case, my dad now has COVID-19 and we are left to hope and pray he returns to health. But the pain from the failed Republican response cuts even deeper than public health. Latino families are struggling to come up with enough money to pay rent and put food on their table. Latino essential workers are risking their lives everyday in order to earn a living. And Latino-owned small businesses are struggling to maintain their operations – many are being forced to close down. This changes the make-up of our communities, further hurts workers who become unemployed and devastates the small business owners who have dedicated their lives to pursuing their dreams. The impact and challenges that our families are currently facing are devastating, tragic and infuriating all at once. The Trump-Abbott approach has failed us. This was all preventable as we see other countries and even states reopen safely.

City Stories

Austin American-Statesman - September 15, 2020

Success of Austin Convention Center expansion may hinge on COVID-19 recovery

Financial projections show the planned expansion of the Austin Convention Center would inject an additional $306 million per year into the local economy, but only if one condition holds: that large events are again held in-person after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides. A study that a consulting firm presented Tuesday to the City Council was conducted last fall — several months before the disease reached Austin and put an extended pause on gatherings throughout the world. Tom Hazinski, managing director of HVS Convention, Sports & Entertainment, the firm that conducted the study, expressed confidence that people will again have an appetite for large-scale conventions after the pandemic.

However, he did caution that financial setbacks caused by the pandemic could prevent typical convention attendees from making out-of-town trips. “Face to face importance won’t change,” he said. The study follows the City Council’s May 2019 vote to approve a $1.2 billion plan to expand the convention center. The first phase calls for expanding the convention center to the west before demolishing and rebuilding within its existing footprint. It’s expected to be completed by 2033. Other than the concerns tied to the pandemic, the consultant report paints a promising picture of the expansion’s potential economic impact. The report projects that the convention center’s annual impact would grow from its current estimated $494.9 million to about $801.7 million with the expansion, an increase of $306.8 million. There also would be a 61% increase in jobs created, from 2,868 to 4,640, according to the study. The Austin Convention Center, currently the third-smallest venue among the 16 comparable metro areas included in the study, could be the second-largest among those markets upon completion of the expansion in 2033.

Austin American-Statesman - September 16, 2020

16 hospitalized after fleeing East Austin crane collision

Diane Stewart is used to the occasional construction noise coming from the work site near her Mueller neighborhood apartment In East Austin. But on Wednesday morning, she heard something that made her pause. “It sounded like pipes falling. It was a loud crash, it made me turn,” Stewart said. What Stewart heard was two construction cranes colliding, causing dozens of people beneath the cranes to flee. Medics responded at 9:38 a.m. to the site in the 1600 block of Robert Browning Street, just north of Mueller Lake Park near Dell Children’s Medical Center.

When medics arrived, they tended to 22 people, with 16 being taken to a hospital. EMS Capt. Darren Noak said none of the injuries was considered life-threatening. People got injured while running from the crane collision, Noak said. He did not know what, if any, debris fell or hit the area near the cranes. Rescuers did not make immediately clear what the extent of the injuries were or whether all the people injured were construction workers. Hours later, investigators were still trying to figure out exactly what happened, but Austin Fire Battalion Chief Mark Bridges said the wires of the two cranes got tangled up. A piece of one of the cranes broke off during the collision. One operator was still in one of the cranes when officials spoke to reporters around 11 a.m. But Bridges said the operator was not in danger. Stewart, the Mueller resident, was walking to Mueller Lake Park with her bird-watching binoculars around 9:30 a.m. when she heard the cranes crash. She was walking along Aldrich Street at the roundabout outside the lake. Stewart said she is used to hearing bangs or cement trucks from the construction site, but what she heard Wednesday morning sounded like a car crash.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

McKinney council member La’Shadion Shemwell refiles suit contesting planned November recall election

La’Shadion Shemwell, the embattled McKinney City Council member facing a recall vote in November, has refiled a federal lawsuit alleging the city’s procedure for a recall is unconstitutional. Shemwell first filed the suit in March, after the council approved the recall election following the filing of a citizen petition with the city. After the coronavirus pandemic pushed city elections from May to November, Shemwell withdrew the suit but said he planned to refile. The recall vote was placed on the November ballot in early August, and Shemwell refiled his suit this week.

“My hope is that the city of McKinney does the right thing by the voters and constituents of my district and allows their voices not to be diluted,” Shemwell said Tuesday. “I have trust and faith that they will.” In his lawsuit, Shemwell alleges that “due to racially polarized voting patterns in McKinney” it is impossible for him to win in a citywide recall election. Although he was elected by voters in the city’s eastern District 1, all McKinney voters can cast a ballot on whether he keeps his seat. The suit contends that Black and Latino voters, who make up a majority of residents in District 1, support Shemwell but that a majority of voters in McKinney, which is mostly white, do not. By allowing all residents to vote on the recall, the city is violating the Constitution’s 14th and 15th Amendments. The suit argues that the city pushed the recall vote to November not only because of the pandemic but also because higher voter turnout then would “dilute the voting strength of Black and Latino voters.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 17, 2020

In wake of yet another police shooting, activists again demand San Antonio City Council ‘defund’ police

In the wake of the eighth fatal shooting by San Antonio police this year, activists renewed calls Wednesday to cut the city’s police spending ahead of a City Council vote that will likely boost that budget instead. More than a dozen residents implored council members to vote to cut the San Antonio Police Department budget during a public videoconference meeting held the day after police shot and killed Darrell Zemault Sr., a Black man, while arresting him on two family violence warrants. Among those who spoke was Celeste Brown, an organizer with Defund Police SA and a friend of Zemault’s family. She called the Zemault a “second father.” “He didn’t have to die,” Brown said. “But the city of San Antonio, by way of SAPD, let him. So I urge all of you to take a hard look at yourselves and ask if this is the compassionate San Antonio that you say it is.”

“Defund the police that killed Darrell Zemault Sr. and wash the blood off of your hands,” Brown said. Council members are set to vote Thursday on the city’s $2.9 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which includes an $8 million increase in police spending. Activists and residents pushed city leaders to spend less on police and more on social services during summer protests over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis. They were irate when City Manager Erik Walsh revealed the budget included an $8 million increase in police spending — bringing the department’s annual budget to $487 million. That increase stems mostly from more than $13 million in increases in pay and health care required by the police union contract, which mandates a majority of the city’s police spending. Walsh has pointed out his proposed budget invests more in health care, housing and education than in previous years — though that hasn’t satisfied activists. His budget also moves the city’s violence prevention programs under one roof at the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

National Stories

NBC News - September 17, 2020

Barr blasts his own DOJ prosecutors, equates them to preschoolers and 'headhunters'

In scathing remarks against his own staff, Attorney General William Barr said Wednesday that the Justice Department has recently acted "more like a trade association for federal prosecutors than the administrator of a fair system of justice" and equated some prosecutors to preschoolers and "headhunters." Too much deference is given to career prosecutors, rather than to politically appointed leaders who can be held accountable at the ballot box, he said in remarks likely to further strain relations between Barr and some of the Justice Department's career prosecutors. Barr did not mention any specific cases, but he has been criticized by current and former government lawyers for moving to abandon the prosecution of President Donald Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn and seeking a less harsh sentence for Roger Stone, a former Trump campaign adviser. Career Justice Department lawyers quit the prosecution teams in both cases.

"The notion that line prosecutors should make the final decisions within the Department of Justice is completely wrong, and it is antithetical to the basic values underlying our system," Barr said. Prosecutors too often become "headhunters, consumed with taking down their targets," he said. "In case after case, we have advanced and defended hyperaggressive extensions of the criminal law. This is wrong, and we must stop doing it," he said in a speech at Hillsdale College’s annual Constitution Day Celebration, which this year was held at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, VA. Barr said he is annoyed by the claim that political officials interfere in criminal prosecutions, given that all prosecutorial power is vested by law in the attorney general. Some career attorneys are not partisan, he said, but they are often less experienced than their supervisors.

NBC News - September 16, 2020

Top HHS official takes leave of absence after Facebook rant on CDC conspiracies

The top spokesman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is taking a leave of absence, the agency announced Wednesday, days after he promoted dangerous conspiracy theories during a Facebook Live video. In the video, first reported by The New York Times, Michael Caputo, the health department's assistant secretary for public affairs, charged that scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "don't want America to get well." He also urged Trump supporters to load up on ammunition in preparation for a violent left-wing rebellion if the president wins re-election.

Caputo also said in the video that he's been having health issues and that his "mental health has definitely failed." In the announcement, HHS said Caputo "has decided to take a leave of absence to focus on his health and the well-being of his family. Mr. Caputo will be on leave for the next 60 days." Caputo issued a statement a short time later saying that he was receiving treatment for a recently discovered "lymphatic issue." He made no mention of his Facebook screed but said the health issue "contributed to my stress level, along with the increasing number of violent threats leveled at me and my family back in Buffalo." The White House named Caputo, a long-time Trump loyalist, to HHS in April, following reports that painted HHS Secretary Alex Azar as having raised early concerns about the coronavirus.

The Hill - September 16, 2020

Trump now says he 'up-played' virus threat after having told Woodward he wanted to 'play it down'

President Trump on Tuesday claimed that he "up-played" the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, despite telling Bob Woodward in March that he "wanted to always play it down." The president was asked during an ABC News town hall in Pennsylvania why he minimized COVID-19 when the virus has proved to be particularly lethal for communities of color. "I didn't downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action," Trump said. "My action was very strong."

Trump cited his move to curtail travel to the United States from China in January and his decision to bar most travel from Europe in March. The president referred to them as bans, though neither was a blanket ban. "So that was called action, not with the mouth but in actual fact," Trump said. "We did a very, very good job when we put that ban on." "Whether you call it talent or luck, it was very important," Trump continued. "So we saved a lot of lives when we did that." The president's insistence that he took the virus seriously contradicts his own comments, made on tape to Woodward on March 19, that he intentionally downplayed the significance of the COVID-19 outbreak to avoid creating panic. “I wanted to, I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said in the recording, which was released last week ahead of the release of Woodward's book. Trump also told Woodward in a Feb. 7 conversation that COVID-19 is "more deadly than even your strenuous flus."

Politico - September 14, 2020

‘This is f---ing crazy’: Florida Latinos swamped by wild conspiracy theories

George Soros directs a “deep state” global conspiracy network. A Joe Biden win would put America in control of “Jews and Blacks.” The Democratic nominee has a pedophilia problem. Wild disinformation like this is inundating Spanish-speaking residents of South Florida ahead of Election Day, clogging their WhatsApp chats, Facebook feeds and even radio airwaves at a saturation level that threatens to shape the outcome in the nation’s biggest and most closely contested swing state. The sheer volume of conspiracy theories — including QAnon — and deceptive claims are already playing a role in stunting Biden’s growth with Latino voters, who make up about 17 percent of the state’s electorate. “The onslaught has had an effect,” said Eduardo Gamarra, a pollster and director of the Latino Public Opinion Forum at Florida International University.

“It’s difficult to measure the effect exactly, but the polling sort of shows it and in focus groups it shows up, with people deeply questioning the Democrats, and referring to the ‘deep state’ in particular — that there’s a real conspiracy against the president from the inside,” he said. “There’s a strain in our political culture that’s accustomed to conspiracy theories, a culture that’s accustomed to coup d'etats.” Gamarra, a political science and international relations professor with extensive experience polling in Latin America and Hispanic voters in Florida, pointed to recent large-sample surveys of Latinos in the state and in the Latino-heavy county of Miami-Dade. They showed Biden underperforming with this crucial Democratic leaning segment of the electorate, though he’s still running ahead of President Donald Trump by double digits. The race overall in the state is essentially tied. Florida’s Latino community is a diverse mix of people with roots across Latin America. There’s a large population of Republican-leaning Cubans in Miami-Dade and a growing number of Democratic-leaning voters with Puerto Rican, Colombian, Nicaraguan, Dominican and Venezuelan heritage in Miami and elsewhere in the state. Many register as independents but typically vote Democratic. Those independents — especially recently arrived Spanish-speakers — are seen as more up for grabs because they’re less tied to U.S. political parties and are more likely than longtime voters to be influenced by mainstream news outlets and social media.

CNBC - September 16, 2020

Snowflake more than doubles in market debut, largest ever software IPO

Cloud company Snowflake shares surged more than 111% in its market debut on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday in the largest ever software IPO. The stock began trading at $245 per share and closed at $253.93. A day earlier, Snowflake priced shares at $120, higher than the $100 to $110 range it estimated on Monday, and a huge bump from the $75 to $85 range it proposed last week. Snowflake was worth $70.4 billion at the end of trading, more than five times its $12.4 billion valuation in February.

“A stock is worth exactly what somebody wants to pay for it,” CEO Frank Slootman told CNBC just after the stock began trading. “It’s like talking about the weather, it is what it is. Tomorrow’s another day, we’ll see what it brings.” The company raised more $3 billion based on its opening price, the most ever for a software company. The stock trades under the symbol SNOW.

September 16, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2020

Texas proposes fewer budget cuts to women’s programs but would freeze hiring eligibility workers

The state’s mega agency for health care and social services is rescinding proposed cuts to women’s health, family planning and domestic violence programs, it announced Tuesday. But the Health and Human Services Commission also said it’ll commence a hiring freeze for eligibility workers who screen needy Texans applying for safety-net programs, if elected leaders ratify its latest proposal. What “has remained unchanged” since June is that the commission will meet its so-called 5% spending cut target with nearly $133 million less in expenditures of state tax dollars in the budget cycle that ends late next summer, spokeswoman Christine Mann said in a written statement.

In May, preparing for a tough budget session next year because of an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Speaker Dennis Bonnen asked agencies to offer what they described as 5% spending cuts. After the “Big 3” Republican leaders exempted a host of major programs and “sacred cow” agencies from any reductions, though, only 17% of the state’s discretionary spending was on the chopping block, budget experts said. By June, department heads offered slightly more than $1 billion of spending reductions — only a small slice of the $124 billion of general-purpose revenue expenditures contained in the current two-year budget. The cuts at the commission, though not yet final, are likely to make it more difficult, amid a pandemic-driven recession, for newly jobless and uninsured Texans to receive help. Kami Geoffray, chief executive of the women’s health group Every Body Counts, said she was relieved to learn Tuesday that the commission has walked back a proposed $3.7 million cut to providers of family planning services and care given to low-income women by the Healthy Texas Women program.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2020

Updated COVID metric shows Texas outbreak on the decline since mid-July

As public schools were making plans to reopen in August, errors in the state’s calculations made the COVID-19 outbreak in Texas appear larger than it was, according to new state data released Monday. On Aug. 11, when the state reported that the percentage of people testing positive for the coronavirus peaked at 24.5 percent, the actual rate was 12.5 percent. The metric fluctuated greatly that month as the state identified and began to work through 800,000 backlogged test results — some dating as far back as March — that state officials had initially missed. They blamed coding mishaps for the oversights.

For most days in August, the positivity rate reported by the state was higher than the actual percent of people testing positive. The updated data — based on a new calculation of the dates that tests were conducted rather than the dates that results were reported by labs to the state — shows a steady downward trend in the positivity rate since July, even as schools have begun reopening. As of Sept. 13 — a week after Labor Day — the positivity rate stood at 6.71 percent, according to the new data. That is the lowest it has been since the first week of June. Abbott has repeatedly touted the positivity rate as a key metric in his reopening decisions, as it should present a current portrait of the pandemic’s spread. He has previously said that a sustained positivity rate below 10 percent could prompt further reopenings statewide, including reopening bars, which have been closed since late June.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2020

Texas Supreme Court grants Paxton request to extend halt on Harris County ballot application mailout

The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday blocked Harris County from sending mail ballot applications to all registered voters in the county, granting Attorney General Ken Paxton’s request hours earlier for the high court to step in before a different order halting the mailout was set to expire. Paxton, a Republican, has argued that Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins’ plan to send applications to each of the county’s 2.4 million registered voters would confuse voters and lead to potential fraud. A state district judge rejected that argument Friday, and Paxton swiftly appealed to Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals.

The appellate court denied Paxton’s request for an order blocking the mailout, deciding instead to speed up the trial by ordering Hollins and Paxton to submit arguments by Wednesday afternoon. Under an agreement between the state and county offices, Hollins was barred from sending out mail ballot applications until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday. Paxton, who noted that the appeals court “offered no assurance” it would issue a ruling by then, argued in a court filing Tuesday afternoon that the Texas Supreme Court should prevent Hollins from sending out applications once the clock strikes midnight Thursday morning. The court granted Paxton’s request, ordering Hollins not to send unsolicited applications “until further order of this court.” The state Supreme Court already had blocked Hollins from mailing out applications to voters under 65 through a similar lawsuit filed by the Harris County Republican Party and conservative activist Steven Hotze. However, Paxton noted, the court’s stay order will expire before the state and county agreement is up Wednesday evening.

BBC - September 14, 2020

ICE whistleblower: Nurse alleges 'hysterectomies on immigrant women in US'

Advocacy groups have filed a complaint against a migrant detention centre in the US, alleging medical neglect and a lack of virus safety measures. The complaint condemns the practices and conditions at the private Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. It is based on the allegations of a whistleblower, a nurse identified as Dawn Wooten. She worked at the centre, which houses immigrants detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

As part of her complaint, filed on Monday, Ms Wooten expressed concerns about the high number of hysterectomies performed on Spanish-speaking women at the centre. The nurse said detained women told her they did not fully understand why they had to get a hysterectomy - an operation involving the removal of all or part of the uterus. The complaint also alleges "jarring medical neglect" during the coronavirus pandemic, including a refusal to test detainees with symptoms and fabricating medical records. "I became a whistleblower, now I'm a target," Ms Wooten said at a press conference on Tuesday. But, "I'll be a target anytime", she said, rather than staying a part of what she called an "inhumane" system. Speaking to reporters, Ms Wooten alleged gross misconduct at the centre with respect to Covid-19 precautions, and said she was demoted after protesting the conditions and staying home while symptomatic.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2020

Cornyn and Hegar set Oct. 9 Senate debate as Democrat challenges him to two more

Sen. John Cornyn and MJ Hegar will meet next month for one hourlong debate. Within minutes of that announcement on Tuesday, the challenger demanded two more head-to-head televised meetings. The three-term incumbent’s side indicated that’s a possibility. The debate the rivals have agreed to will air Friday Oct. 9 from 7 to 8 p.m., broadcast live from the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin. Moderators will be news anchors Robert Hadlock and Sally Hernandez of KXAN-TV in Austin, and Dallas Morning News political writer Gromer Jeffers Jr., who also co-moderated one of the debates two years ago between Sen. Ted Cruz and challenger Beto O’Rourke.

“We owe Texas voters multiple opportunities to hear Senator Cornyn and me debate our plans for Texas,” Hegar said in a statement, calling on Cornyn “to honor his campaign statements on the importance of debates by having the courage to participate in three debates.” “Senator Cornyn has agreed to debate MJ Hegar, and we look forward to considering other opportunities," said Cornyn spokesman Travis Considine. Considine pointed to a comment the senator made earlier this month: “We’re gonna debate at least once, and I’m happy to do more.” Nexstar Broadcasting will host the Oct. 9 debate and broadcast it on 15 stations across the state, including KDAF-TV (Ch. 33) in Dallas and KIAH-TV in Houston, both CW affiliates. The biggest market not covered is San Antonio. According the Nexstar, questions will cover education, health care and the coronavirus pandemic, infrastructure and the economy. Questions from local voters will also be posed.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

Bowers, Douglas disagree over education, jobs, health care in eastern Dallas County Texas House race

State Rep. Rhetta Bowers' record during her first term in office is a point of fundamental disagreement between her and Republican challenger, Will Douglas. Bowers, a Democrat who flipped House District 113 in 2018, says she worked across the aisle to pass significant legislation, like a major funding bill for public schools and laws that increased mental health precautions to prevent school shootings. Douglas, an entrepreneur who owns several small pharmacies, says Bowers is one of the most “progressive” members in the Legislature whose ideas will shutter small businesses, stymie innovation and derail the Texas economy.

The two are in a heated battle to represent the traditionally Republican district which covers parts of Garland, Mesquite and Rowlett. The race’s outcome could have a larger effect in determining which party holds control in the Texas House next January. “I have nothing personal against Rep. Bowers [but] I wholeheartedly disagree with her politics,” Douglas said. “This economy was built on Republican leadership not on progressive policies.” But Bowers said she’s proven she can represent her district and gained experience that will be needed next session when lawmakers will face an expected budget deficit of billions of dollars. “I was there when we made the decision to invest into our school system and look at the antiquated school finance formula,” she said. “I was there when we made those historic changes, so I would be able to pick the ball up where we left it.” The race has picked up steam after Bowers called Douglas a “boy” and said he needed a “whooping” during a fundraiser. Bowers said she was reacting to comments Douglas made at an NAACP event where he said minority voters thought of themselves as “victims.”

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2020

In key North Texas House race, Button touts experience, Chambers says district needs a ‘fighter’

After 12 years in the Texas Legislature, state Rep. Angie Chen Button says she’s learned all the places to look when searching for funding for a project. That has helped the Garland Republican find money in the state budget for her legislative priorities, like increasing health care access for women and children and reducing the state’s rape kit backlog. That experience, she said, and her relationships with other lawmakers — including Democrats — is the reason voters should send her back to Austin next January.

“Next session is going to be extremely tough,” she said. “We need a leader with a proven record and forward-thinking vision who can work across the aisle building consensus and getting things done. That is me.” But her Democratic opponent, Brandy K. Chambers, said House District 112 — which spans northeast Dallas County through Richardson, Garland, Sachse and Rowlett — has been under Button’s “vacuum of leadership” for far too long. On issues like standing up for LGBT people, immigrants, and low-income Texans, Chambers said, Button’s moderate Republican approach does not cut it. “I don’t see her standing up for or standing against anything,” Chambers said. “This district deserves more than that — someone who will push against wrongful things and for things that will make things better for Texas. That’s what I want to do.” Button narrowly beat Chambers by 1,100 votes in 2018. This November, Chambers wants to prevail, but Button won’t give up her seat without a fight. The race has added importance because Democrats are making a push to take the Texas House for the first time since 2001 and the outcome in this and other North Texas districts could be decisive.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

Are you registered? These high schoolers are making sure young people are prepared to vote

Texas has a historically low voter turnout — especially for young people. But these high school students are trying to change that. In 2016, only 51.1% of eligible voters in Texas cast a ballot, putting it in the bottom five states for voter turnout. But in 2018, Texas had a historic increase in turnout during the midterm elections, giving it the sixth-highest increase in the nation. One major contributing factor: Young voters. In Texas, turnout for 18- to 29-year-olds nearly tripled from the 2014 midterm elections, from 8.2% to 25.8%.

With the Oct. 5 deadline to register to vote coming up, young people in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex are looking to increase that number even more for the 2020 presidential election — and beyond. Voice of the Empowered, or VOTE, in Tarrant County and the Dallas County-based Student Voter Empowerment Coalition are student-run organizations bringing young people together, educating them and mobilizing them (sometimes even before they are eligible to vote), so they are confident at the ballot box. “I think the pandemic really showed a lot of teenagers that you don’t need to be super involved, you don’t even need to slap a label on yourself about which ideology you believe over another,” said Tulsi Lohani, a senior at Trinity High School in Euless and the lead student coordinator of VOTE. “But a lot of young people are starting to realize that they have the power to make a change.” VOTE was formed on April 1 after Athena Chavez, founder of the Tarrant County branch of March to the Polls, approached Lohani and five other students about starting an organization aimed at getting young people to the polls. March to the Polls is a non-profit, non-partisan organization based in Dallas with the mission to increase voter participation in historically underrepresented citizens. Since then, the VOTE team has met several times per week to get their classmates educated and mobilized.

San Antonio Express-News - September 15, 2020

Clayton Perry: Delay council vote on aquifer funding plan

(City Councilman Clayton Perry represents District 10.) How many of you are prepared to have reduced city services? I suspect not many people would volunteer to have fewer streets paved, or drainage and park improvements. However, if the plan to fund the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, or EAPP, as presented to City Council last week passes, that is exactly what will happen. In a city with a community already described as economically challenged, it makes no sense to consider further burdening our general fund with the sole responsibility of funding the EAPP. Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s workforce development program and Pre-K 4 SA have been approved for the November ballot, with VIA Metropolitan Transit adding its own initiative. There is no room for the EAPP to be voted on by the public. Never mind the EAPP sales tax elections have been supported by an overwhelming majority of voters four times over the last 20 years.

The plan presented last week at City Council will simply allow the EAPP, as funded by the 1/8-cent sales tax, to run out. Its funding source will then be picked up by San Antonio Water System ratepayers and carried forward through the city’s general fund at the cost of $100 million over 10 years. This is money that should be used for other core requirements of this city. Last Thursday, City Council was briefed on the plan to continue the EAPP. Proponents of this plan have invited other ideas to the table, but they have ignored the most obvious option — letting the voters decide whether they want to keep it. I strongly believe this item should have been placed on the November ballot. It can be placed on a future ballot, in May 2022, if the council chooses to delay the item and if one of the proposed propositions on the upcoming November ballot fails. I do not believe our general fund should carry the burden of the EAPP. The current funding mechanism utilizing the 1/8th cent sales tax ensures that anyone who makes a purchase in San Antonio contributes to aquifer protection. People who live outside city limits, tourists or anyone who is conducting business in our city contribute to the fund.

San Antonio Express-News - September 15, 2020

‘Used-Mexicans’ billboard removed after blowup in New Braunfels

A billboard advertisement with a cryptic but controversial message — “Used-Mexicans” — was removed Monday after it spurred complaints from passing motorists on Interstate 35 near New Braunfels and from civil rights leaders. New Braunfels City Manager Robert Camareno said in a statement posted to Facebook that the advertising company that owns the billboard removed the sign Monday afternoon after learning of its content. The League of United Latin American Citizens said the company, Turner Outdoor Advertising, had donated the billboard space to the organization effective immediately “for placement of a positive message.” Camareno said New Braunfels officials received complaints about the sign over the weekend and throughout Monday.

“The billboard is not located within the New Braunfels city limits or within the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the city of New Braunfels,” Camareno’s statement said. “However, we do acknowledge that the billboard is offensive and not representative of our community’s values. “We worked to locate the owner of the billboard and contacted them. They were unaware of the billboard and said it had not been approved. Once they were notified of its offensive messaging, they worked swiftly to address the issue.” The billboard, located just north of a truck stop at the York Creek exit off I-35 in Comal County, displayed “Used-Mexicans” followed by the website suffixes .org, .com and .info. Those visiting the websites found a message saying: “Used (Yoozd) Adj.; a) deceptively led into a relationship to gain something of worth. b) no longer of value, depleted.” In bold letters, the sites define Mexicans as “people of heritage that are good at what they do” and adds, “You are being Yoozd!” The man who put up the billboard, Charles Abernathy, said its message was that Hispanics have been used by the Democratic Party, are conservative at heart and ought to vote for President Donald Trump.

San Antonio Express-News - September 16, 2020

Record donation at San Antonio’s Our Lady of the Lake University opens new mass communication school

Communications and theater students at Our Lady of the Lake University this semester will have access to state-of-the-art equipment and production centers in a new school dedicated to those fields, thanks to a $2.1 million donation from an alumna and her husband. The university’s new Salazar-Escobedo School of Mass Communication and Theater officially opened its doors this semester, completing the university’s overhaul of its media and communications program, which began in 2016 after the university received the first $1 million of the gift.

The donation is the largest by an individual or couple in the Catholic university’s history, said Ken Rodriguez, a university spokesman. Veronica Salazar-Escobedo and her husband, Ruben M. Escobedo, were honored with a special Mass and blessing Tuesday afternoon. Salazar-Escobedo graduated from the university in 1965 before working at the San Antonio Express-News as a columnist and vice president for community relations. “We want our graduates to become the best journalists, the best broadcasters, the best mass media in the country,” Salazar-Escobedo said, according to a university news release. “We want them to become evangelists for Our Lady of the Lake University, to inspire other students to look at us.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 15, 2020

Texas Supreme Court ruling puts 3 Green Party candidates back on November ballot

Green Party candidates from Texas and across the country hold up their fists after speaking at a press conference at the Green Party Convention at the University of Houston Friday, August 5, 2016 in Houston. ( Michael Ciaglo / Houston Chronicle ) 2 of 2Green Party candidates from Texas and across the country hold up their fists after speaking at a press conference at the Green Party Convention at the University of Houston Friday, August 5, 2016 in Houston. ( Michael Ciaglo / Houston Chronicle )Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Staff / Houston Chronicle The Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the Secretary of State to “immediately take all necessary actions” to put back three Green Party candidates back on November ballots. The Green candidates had been removed for ineligibility after the Texas Democratic Party and some of its candidates sued because some Greens hadn't paid filing fees. Last month, the Third Court of Appeals sided with the Democrats and ordered the Green Party to declare that its candidates — David B. Collins, running for U.S. Senate; Katija “Kat” Gruene, running for Railroad Commission and Tommy Wakely, running for Congressional District 21 — were ineligible.

The fees were newly charged to third parties this year after legislators in 2019 passed a law extending the requirement to them; third-parties have sued over the law in still-pending cases. The Supreme Court did not explain its order Tuesday but said it would soon issue an opinion. “It's the ultimate David versus Goliath kind of a thing,” said Charles Waterbury, attorney for the Texas Green Party. “I understand we all live and work in a partisan atmosphere, but it sure is nice when all the parties get to be on the ballot.” Harris County officials told the court Monday that it is “too late to make changes … even if the Court were to act today.” Saturday is the deadline to mail ballots to military or overseas voters who already submitted their ballot requests.

Austin American-Statesman - September 15, 2020

Coronavirus cases rising among school-aged children, college students, health officials say

High school students in Travis County are getting infected with the coronavirus at a rate three times higher than that of the general public, according to the county’s top health authority Tuesday. College students follow closely behind with a positivity rate about twice that of the general public, said Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin Public Health. Last week, 14% of 107 test results for those ages 10 to 19 came back positive, Escott said. For college students, 9.4% of 235 tests were positive.

“We are working with our superintendents as well as our colleges and universities to really try and get control of the spread in these circumstances by encouraging the masking, the social distancing and the personal hygiene, whether they are in the classroom or outside the classroom,” Escott said. In an added effort, Austin Public Health last week met with fraternities and sororities, namely at the University of Texas, to encourage participation in reducing COVID-19 cases. While increases in cases for young people are of concern, Escott said the data has yet to show a significant impact on hospitalizations. Health officials often use hospitalization data to track the risk of the coronavirus within the Austin metro area. “Because they are primarily in younger age groups, they have a much lower risk of being hospitalized and dying,” Escott said. However, college and high school students can easily spread the disease to those more at risk, which is why transmission should be avoided, he added. “It’s really important not only that they try to avoid transmission, but once they’ve been exposed that they protect other people from them by isolating,” Escott said.

Austin American-Statesman - September 15, 2020

Lawmakers to officially introduce #IAmVanessaGuillen bill Wednesday

Capping months of frustration for sexual assault survivors in the military as they rallied for justice for slain Fort Hood soldier Vanessa Guillen and their own cases, lawmakers will introduce a bill Wednesday on Capitol Hill that supporters say could lead to greater accountability and reform. U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., are the lead sponsors for the legislation dubbed the #IAmVanessaGuillen bill, which would allow for third-party investigations into military sexual misconduct claims.

The hashtag #IAmVanessaGuillen went viral on social media as the search for Guillen, a 20-year-old U.S. Army specialist stationed at Fort Hood, was at its peak. She had been last seen April 22, and her disappearance remained a mystery until her remains were discovered near the Leon River in Bell County on June 30. Former and active-duty service members used #IAmVanessaGuillen to share personal accounts of sexual misconduct within the military, which raised public doubts about whether military leaders properly handle investigations into such matters. While Army officials say they’ve found no substantial evidence that Guillen was the victim of sexual misconduct, her family maintains that Guillen was sexually harassed by one or more soldiers at Fort Hood. One man the family has accused of sexually harassing Guillen is Spc. Aaron Robinson, who authorities believe killed Guillen while the two worked together in a Fort Hood weapons room the day she disappeared. Robinson died July 1 after shooting himself as local police tried to detain him, authorities have said. Attorney Natalie Khawam, who represents the Guillen family, began advocating for the elements in the proposed legislation after learning of the family’s allegations.

Austin American-Statesman - September 15, 2020

Experts: Proposed state takeover of Austin police legal, but unprecedented

When the proposal for a state takeover of the Austin Police Department made headlines recently, some wondered if such a move would violate the Texas Constitution. It wouldn’t, according to several experts on the state’s constitution. Because Austin is the seat of state government, state lawmakers can claim matters that might seem local, such as how a city council budgets for public safety, have state-wide impact.

David B. Brooks, an Austin attorney who has written several volumes on Texas municipal and county government, said two sections of Texas law make it clear that things work differently in Austin. One is the section that outlines Austin as the capital of the state and seat of Texas’ government. The other is a section that gives the state authority over local matters when a statewide importance is determined. “The city of Austin is special because it is the capital city and state agencies all over the place here, as it were,” Brooks said. “When you reach that point, you don’t have to split hairs as to whether a law enforcement action affects a certain state office or officials or anything,” Brooks said. “It happening in Austin is enough.” But it certainly wasn’t what the framers of Texas Constitution had in mind when they approved the document in 1876, said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston.

Austin American-Statesman - September 15, 2020

John Cornyn: To continue essential education, we must bridge the digital divide

Temperature checks in the drop-off lane. Tape cordoning off every other desk. Teachers trying to learn new students’ names through facemasks and six feet of distance. A grid of classmates participating virtually on a projector screen. The school year just started, and already it’s unlike any other. I visited with students, teachers, and administrators across Texas recently to see how Texans are adapting to school during the coronavirus pandemic. As Lubbock ISD Superintendent Dr. Kathy Rollo told me, teachers are essential. Education is essential. But new precautions to keep children from catching and spreading the virus don’t come easy, and they definitely don’t come cheap.

Congress has already passed more than $30 billion in emergency relief for education, including $2.6 billion for Texas. That funding has allowed Canyon ISD, for example, where 92 percent of students have chosen to attend in-person, to bolster their supply of cafeteria tables so students can eat lunch six feet apart. In Odessa, they’ve used CARES Act funding to enhance microphones in classrooms to pick up teachers’ lessons through their facemasks. Millions of dollars have secured personal protective equipment, sanitizer, and cleaning supplies. The transition to virtual learning presents more new challenges, and exacerbates old ones. In places like Ector County, where Superintendent Dr. Scott Muri shared that one-third of students don’t have ready access to broadband, learning from home may not be a viable option. Forty-four percent of households within the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD don’t have broadband subscriptions. And across the state, it’s estimated that roughly 30 percent of Texas’ 5.5 million public school students don’t have the proper technology for online learning. Despite the best efforts of local officials, the divide is most stark in Texas’ rural counties and in the Rio Grande Valley. What we used to call the “homework gap” has blown into a full-on learning deficit, knocking students who were already at a disadvantage down a few more rungs. We must bridge the digital divide. Texas students – and their families – are counting on us.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2020

Fort Bend Rep. Gary Gates evicted over 100 tenants during the pandemic

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, state Rep. Gary Gates has worked hard to let constituents in Fort Bend County know he is there for them in a moment of crisis. The freshman lawmaker, a Republican who won a hotly contested runoff election in January and is on the ballot again this fall, began buying up hand sanitizer and protective gear and handing them out at high schools and through home deliveries. To date, he says he’s distributed about 15,000 kits across the district, all of them paid for out of his own pocket. But as the November election nears and the economic fallout from the pandemic deepens, Gates has played another, less visible role for some of those hardest hit: evicting tenants from his local empire of low-income housing.

Since the governor issued a disaster declaration in mid-March, Gates has filed at least 104 evictions across 34 apartment complexes in and around Houston, according to an analysis of eviction records by Hearst Newspapers. Nearly three-fourths of those have ended in judgments against tenants, meaning they were likely evicted. None of the filings appear to have violated tenant protections in place through August under the CARES Act, and Gates said his staff has stopped filing evictions since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordered a new federal moratorium earlier this month. Gates said he’s tried to work with tenants to avoid displacing them — or at least to minimize the damage when they do. His company has offered payment plans to some, and paid a handful of others to move out quickly, a practice meant to skirt the eviction process called “cash for keys.” “We bend over backwards to do everything we can, because look, it doesn’t do me any good to have a vacant apartment,” Gates said.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2020

TxDOT takes tolls out of Hempstead Highway plans, but raises idea of elevated lanes

A long-planned tollway along Hempstead Road has new life, albeit without the tolls, as Texas Department of Transportation planners pitch an elevated system that could cater to carpools and transit. Specific designs are years away, but the concept TxDOT officials are pursuing, and recently inserted in the regional 10-year transportation plan updated annually by the Houston-Galveston Area Council, involves rebuilding most of Hempstead Road from Loop 610 to Jones Road in northwest Harris County and adding a transit-only lane in each direction. The biggest change, however, hovers above Hempstead, where officials are proposing two managed lanes in each direction along an elevated structure atop or alongside the road.

The final designs would only come after public scrutiny, said James Koch, planning director for TxDOT’s Houston office. Local leaders also stressed the plan will face further attention. “I think they are kicking the tires,” Harris County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle said. As officials did with the rebuild of nearby U.S. 290 and plan to as they remake Interstate 45, work will spread across numerous construction projects, meaning some portions could come sooner than others. Koch, in a presentation to H-GAC transportation officials Aug. 27, outlined six projects that combined would build more than 24 miles of elevated freeway from Loop 610 to the Grand Parkway. Unlike U.S. 290 that runs parallel to Hempstead Road, the managed lanes would allow for quicker trips to such key places as the Sam Houston Tollway or northern end of Uptown because fewer entrances and exits along the managed lanes mean less traffic weaving on and off the main lanes. That keeps traffic moving slightly faster, similar to the Katy Managed Lanes along Interstate 10.

KSAT - September 15, 2020

Texas Ag Commissioner Sid Miller says he’d ‘certainly expand medical marijuana’

After touring a state-licensed Austin-area marijuana facility last week, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller indicated he would like to see the program expanded. Miller, a staunch conservative Republican, made the comments while visiting Compassionate Cultivation on Thursday, according to KXAN. “I would certainly expand medical marijuana. If it’ll help somebody, I’m for it," Miller said. “Whatever it is. I mean, a toothache, I don’t care. If it’s a cure, if it [alleviates] pain, we should be able to use that.”

In 2017, Texas' “Compassionate Use Act” went into effect, allowing some Texans to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. However, access is significantly limited, only applying to people with a handful of very specific conditions like intractable epilepsy and terminal cancer. Under the law, businesses are allowed to cultivate low-THC cannabis to treat those issues. Critics say Texans with ailments like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or glaucoma should be allowed access to medical marijuana. While Miller expressed the need to expand medical access to marijuana in Texas, he stopped short of advocating for legalizing the drug recreationally. “I’m not a recreational marijuana [user], but if someone has a condition that this chemical will help, they should be able to use it,” Miller said.

KUT - September 15, 2020

Four more sexual assault survivors sue Austin and Travis County, alleging gender bias

Four women filed a class-action lawsuit Monday accusing Austin and Travis County law enforcement of mishandling their sexual assault cases because of gender discrimination. A similar lawsuit filed by eight other sexual assault survivors was dismissed by a federal judge in February. Like the earlier case, the new lawsuit argues the Austin Police Department and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office “systematically refuse to investigate sex crimes against women based on biased assumptions about their gender.” Defendants include the City of Austin, Travis County, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley, former APD Chief Art Acevedo, Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore and former Travis County DA Rosemary Lehmberg.

The lawsuit, filed in Travis County District Court, argues the plaintiffs were re-traumatized by the criminal justice system after reporting their assaults. They point to years-long delays in rape kit testing results and low prosecution rates, and accuse the police department of being poorly trained and understaffed. Given that the crime of sexual assault disproportinately affects women, the suit argues, the small number of convictions is proof that female survivors are being denied equal protection of the law. "In response to this lawsuit, Austin and Travis County have the opportunity to revamp their policies and cultures to ensure that sexual assault survivors are heard and respected," said Jenny Ecklund, one of the lawyers representing the victims. "The named plaintiffs in this new class action are hopeful that the addition of their voices to the demand for accountability will help to ensure justice and that APD and the Travis County DA honor and uphold the constitutional rights of their citizens.

McAllen Monitor - September 15, 2020

Interest in homeschooling grows in distance-learning era

Families across the region are a few weeks into virtual learning, but a growing number of local parents are deciding to take matters into their own hands by switching to homeschooling. Some reasons parents have decided to part ways with school systems stem from an apprehension about the quality of distance learning, or concerns for their family’s health amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced all local school districts to have a remote reopening. Classical Conversations is an international, faith-based homeschooling organization, and Mio Cabeza of Edinburg is the representative of the Rio Grande Valley’s chapter.

Homeschooling families who join Classical Conversations, also known as CC, have access to education materials and programs, and are plugged into local groups that meet weekly for collective lessons. The number of parents who have shown interest in joining the local chapter of Classical Conversations this year is already 90% more than the interest shown in 2019, Cabeza said. The Valley’s Classical Conversation group was founded in the late 1990s with six students. Now, there are 103 students, from ages between 4 and 18. The chapter’s weekly collective lessons are held at local churches, but because of the pandemic, some students have been joining virtually. Cabeza said she expected the rise of parents opting to homeschool their children during the pandemic. “We knew that not alot of parents were going to feel comfortable letting their kids return to school, and we knew that learning from screens wasn’t going to work for all families,” said Cabeza, who was born and raised in the Bronx in New York City. Cabeza has been using the organization’s curriculum to homeschool her four children, two of which will be graduating this school year. Lessons provided by the organization cover all the subjects of a public school’s curriculum, including calculus, world geography and U.S. History. Latin is also included in the program. Cabeza said she and her husband knew they wanted to homeschool their children before their children were born, before they were even married.

Dallas Morning News - September 16, 2020

III Forks steakhouse makes quick move from North Dallas to Frisco

Locked out by the landlord after nearly 23 years in North Dallas, lll Forks steakhouse quickly relocated to Frisco this week. Open since 1998, the original III Forks closed on Sept. 9 when thunderstorms caused mechanical issues in the building. The owners of the steakhouse — which now has locations in Austin, Chicago and Florida — say they were in a deadlock with the landlord after six months of negotiations that started in March, when COVID-19 began wreaking havoc on the restaurant industry.

Bill Watson, vice president of marketing for Consolidated Restaurant Operations, the Dallas-based company that operates III Forks, says the company and the landlord “couldn’t come up with a mutually acceptable plan to go forward.”Watson says III Forks had decided against renewing the lease for the building, which has been owned by Dallas Stake Investments since 2019. “You have to be very optimistic to be in the restaurant business right now,” says Watson, before adding that the industry is in the worst shape he has seen in his 40-year career. “It is perhaps the most hard-hit sector of the U.S. economy today.” III Forks quickly took the place of Silver Fox in Frisco, another steakhouse owned by CRO in a Frisco building that was recently remodeled. It was renamed as III Forks on Sept. 15. With 7,000 square feet and a capacity of 250, the new III Forks is less than a quarter of the old building’s size. But Watson says this a good thing. “We are quickly coming to the conclusion that large footprint restaurants are going to be very difficult to sustain in the new normal,” Watson says.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2020

This California aerospace leader is looking at Fort Worth for its headquarters

Fort Worth hopes to lure another California company — this time with more than 500 high-paying, white-collar jobs — to the former FAA headquarters. Wesco Aircraft plans to relocate its headquarters from Valencia, California, to Fort Worth in two phases starting next year thanks to a $1 million incentive package the city’s economic development department pitched Tuesday. The company will bring 539 corporate jobs with an average salary of $75,000.

The relocation represents a win for the city, said Robert Sturns, economic development director, as Wesco checks many of the criteria established in the city’s long-term development strategy: A corporate relocation with high-paying office jobs in aerospace, one of the city’s targeted industries. Wesco recently merged with Pattonair and will be doing business as Incora. The company is a leader in supply chain and distribution within the aerospace industry and has more than 7,000 customers worldwide. It’s also a sign Fort Worth is poised to recover strongly from the recession spurred by COVID-19. “I think you will continue to see companies that are reassessing their operations, looking at different environments where they can locate and trying to capitalize on, you know, what options to redesign and rethink how they operate,” Sturns said. “Fort Worth is positioned very well to take advantage of some of those opportunities.”

County Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2020

Dallas County and Parkland are cutting their tax rates, but your tax bill may still go up

Dallas County is slightly lowering its property tax rate for the first time in more than a decade — keeping its billion-dollar budget flat while investing more than $5 million to increase employee pay and support criminal justice reform efforts. However, not every resident will see a decrease in tax bills because the rate applies to assessed values, or the property’s worth for tax purposes. So if an assessment stayed flat, a homeowner should see a decrease from the county of about $3.36 per $100,000 of assessed value, according to a county estimate. If the value increased, a higher invoice is likely to follow.

The county Commissioners Court approved the new property tax rate and budget unanimously Tuesday. The five-member governing board also approved the budget and a slightly lower tax rate for Parkland Health & Hospital System. Commissioners said the rates are being lowered to provide relief for residents weathering the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn. The county’s new rate is about 23.9 cents for every $100 of assessed value, and Parkland’s is almost 26.61 cents per $100 of assessed value. Without exemptions, a homeowner with a property assessed at $250,000 would be levied about $1,262 a year in taxes between the two. Property owners may also be taxed by a variety of other governmental agencies, including the local municipality and school district. Among the biggest-ticket items in the county’s new budget is $13 million for employee raises. All full-time employees will see at least a 2% bump. And for the first time, all part-time employees will earn at least $15 per hour. Dallas County has been working for several years to increase pay to make civil servant jobs more competitive with jobs in the private sector.

City Stories

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 15, 2020

As COVID disproportionately hits Hispanics, community leaders say online learning best

Before the pandemic, Fort Worth resident Roxanne Martinez would wake up early, get her two children ready for the school day and drop them off before heading to work. She worked late, so she relied on her mom to pick the kids up and watch them until she got off in the evening. But now, because COVID-19 has higher fatality rates for those in vulnerable populations — those with preexisting conditions or who are older than 65 — Martinez said she’d hesitate to risk spreading the virus to her mother. The coronavirus pandemic has halted any sense of normalcy for parents, kids and families returning to school. And Fort Worth ISD kicked off the new school year last week the same way it ended last year: online.

The district previously announced tentative plans to resume in-person classes Oct. 5, but the board of trustees will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether it will remain online longer. The agenda for the 5:30 p.m. meeting says the board will discuss whether to extend the back-to-school transition process by an additional four weeks. Under Texas Education Agency guidelines, schools can remain online only for a maximum of eight weeks before they must offer in-person classes as well or risk defunding. Martinez said for the Hispanic community — especially those in Diamond Hill, a northern neighborhood in Fort Worth — staying online makes the most sense. She said Hispanic grandparents typically have a large role in helping to raise their grandchildren and can even live in the same household. According to Tarrant County data, the Diamond Hill area is one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods in the county. The 76106 ZIP code has had 1,687 coronavirus cases as of Monday, the second-most in the county. It also had has 29 deaths, the second-most in the county as well. This is troubling for Martinez because Diamond Hill’s population is mostly Hispanic. According to U.S. Census data, over 80% of the area’s population is Hispanic. “The multigenerational family unit is such a core piece of the Hispanic community, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons why [COVID-19] is putting our families at risk,” she said. While Martinez doesn’t live with her mom, they’re only five blocks away from each other and before the pandemic, they would see each other almost every day. Her mom would not only provide childcare, but she was the first person Martinez would go to when her kids got sick. And Martinez wouldn’t have it any other way, saying it’s just a part of her culture.

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - September 15, 2020

MISD board picks experienced interim superintendent

The Midland ISD school board on Monday night selected someone with experience as an interim superintendent to lead the district this academic year. After meeting in closed session for more than 4 ½ hours, the board, by a 5-1 vote, approved a motion Monday to approve the appointment of Ann Dixon as interim superintendent and authorize legal counsel to negotiate an agreement. Tommy Bishop was the lone vote against. John Trischitti III did not participate in the vote.

Should Dixon accept the position, she will replace Orlando Riddick, who is in the midst of termination proceedings. Board President Rick Davis told the Reporter-Telegram this weekend that the board anticipates an interim superintendent will remain with the district for the 2020-21 school year. “We're very excited about Ms. Dixon,” Davis said during the meeting. “Ms. Dixon has a track record of success as an interim superintendent. She is a no-nonsense data analyzer that gets to the heart of the problem, is focused on academics, and we’re excited that she has expressed an interest, and now we look forward to her service. We also think that she will be a tremendous benefit in helping us find a permanent superintendent.”

National Stories

Vox - September 15, 2020

Last week was a disaster for voting rights in the courts

We are now less than two months from Election Day, and the next several weeks are likely to bring a rush of court decisions determining who is actually able to vote. Both sides are gearing up for litigation. Last May, Republicans announced they have a $20 million legal war chest. Democrats have assembled a small army of hundreds of lawyers — including two former US solicitors general and a former US attorney general — hoping to counter the GOP’s legal team in fights over how ballots will be cast and who will be counted. If last week is any indication, the right to vote is unlikely to fare well in a judiciary that is increasingly dominated by Republicans: Voting rights cases out of Florida and Texas handed important victories to the GOP.

At least one of those victories is likely to disenfranchise tens of thousands of voters altogether. (In Wisconsin, Democrats fared better this week in a ballot-printing case.) The Florida case involves a longstanding dispute over individuals with felony convictions. In 2018, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved a state constitutional amendment intended to restore felons’ voting rights. But the state’s Republican-controlled legislature almost immediately enacted legislation seeking to prevent most of these individuals from actually being able to vote. On Friday, in a party-line vote on Jones v. Governor of Florida, the Republican-controlled United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit backed the state legislature’s play — effectively disenfranchising most of the people Floridians voted to reinfranchise. One day earlier, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit handed down its decision in Texas Democratic Party v. Abbott. That case involves an unusual Texas law that allows voters over the age of 65 to obtain an absentee ballot upon request — thus avoid voting in-person in the middle of a pandemic — but prevents most younger voters from voting absentee.

Washington Post - September 15, 2020

Pro-Trump youth group enlists teens in secretive campaign likened to a ‘troll farm,’ prompting rebuke by Facebook and Twitter

One tweet claimed coronavirus numbers were intentionally inflated, adding, “It’s hard to know what to believe.” Another warned, “Don’t trust Dr. Fauci.” A Facebook comment argued that mail-in ballots “will lead to fraud for this election,” while an Instagram comment amplified the erroneous claim that 28 million ballots went missing in the past four elections. The messages have been emanating in recent months from the accounts of young people in Arizona seemingly expressing their own views — standing up for President Trump in a battleground state and echoing talking points from his reelection campaign. Far from representing a genuine social media groundswell, however, the posts are the product of a sprawling yet secretive campaign that experts say evades the guardrails put in place by social media companies to limit online disinformation of the sort used by Russia during the 2016 campaign.

Teenagers, some of them minors, are being paid to pump out the messages at the direction of Turning Point Action, an affiliate of Turning Point USA, the prominent conservative youth organization based in Phoenix, according to four people with independent knowledge of the effort. Their descriptions were confirmed by detailed notes from relatives of one of the teenagers who recorded conversations with him about the efforts. The campaign draws on the spam-like behavior of bots and trolls, with the same or similar language posted repeatedly across social media. But it is carried out, at least in part, by humans paid to use their own accounts, though nowhere disclosing their relationship with Turning Point Action or the digital firm brought in to oversee the day-to-day activity. One user included a link to Turning Point USA’s website in his Twitter profile until The Washington Post began asking questions about the activity. In response to questions from The Post, Twitter on Tuesday suspended at least 20 accounts involved in the activity for “platform manipulation and spam.” Facebook also removed a number of accounts as part of what the company said is an ongoing investigation.

Washington Post - September 14, 2020

Danielle Pletka: I never considered voting for Trump in 2016. I may be forced to vote for him this year.

(Danielle Pletka is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.) In 2016, I never considered voting for Donald Trump. The Johnny-come-lately Republican and his nasty schoolyard jibes seemed to me the worst degradation of American politics. But in 2020, I may be forced to vote for the man. Hear me out. I don’t need a bumper sticker or a lawn sign to convey my distaste for Trump — his odious tweets, his chronic mendacity and general crudeness. Over the past four years, like an oil slick that besmirches all it touches, Trump himself has managed to obscure his administration’s more-substantive accomplishments, such as focusing the world’s attention on China’s threat to global security and brokering a new era of Middle East peace.

I fear Trump’s erratic, personality-driven decision-making. His contempt for NATO is alarming, as is his delusion that he can manage rogue leaders. I don’t doubt that his eagerness to withdraw U.S. troops from their stability missions in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq will encourage conflict and terrorism. And I fret that his bizarrely isolationist attitude toward international trade will hurt the U.S. economy and splinter the global trading juggernaut that over the past half-century has brought the world amazing prosperity, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of extreme poverty. But I fear the leftward lurch of the Democratic Party even more. What is there to be afraid of? I fear that former vice president Joe Biden would be a figurehead president, incapable of focus or leadership, who would run a teleprompter presidency with the words drafted by his party’s hard-left ideologues. I fear that a Congress with Democrats controlling both houses — almost certainly ensured by a Biden victory in November — would begin an assault on the institutions of government that preserve the nation’s small “d” democracy.

Associated Press - September 15, 2020

Pandemic forces journalists to rethink campaign coverage

When the coronavirus shutdown began, ABC News’ Martha Raddatz figured her plan for a cross-country road trip to meet voters would be shelved, too. Instead, this week Raddatz nears the end of a 6,000-mile journey, where in Ohio she found a man who said President Trump “almost walks on water.” She’s made accommodations, been careful with masks and distancing, arranged interviews ahead of time and is avoiding a cliche of political reporting for safety’s sake. “I have a no-diner rule,” she said. The pandemic that instantly changed the 2020 presidential campaign forced news organizations to reevaluate coverage plans, too. It’s an ongoing process: several reporters who followed Trump to Nevada on Sunday stayed outside when they learned the president’s rally would be held indoors.

For months, news executives wondered if they would be covering a campaign without campaigning, although it has grown more public after Labor Day. “In a way, it gave us an opportunity to reassess how we do things,” said Peter Wallsten, senior politics editor at The Washington Post. “It’s not clear whether how the media has been covering campaigns in the past has been the right way.” Given a result that took many people by surprise in 2016, one thing virtually all news organizations planned for this year was to talk to more voters, particularly in swing states. Restrictions on travel and safety concerns made that more difficult. The New York Times built a network of freelancers in key states, many of them experienced journalists who had lost jobs in the industry’s downturn. The newspaper has three in Wisconsin, a competitive state that also became the incubator of racial justice protests. “I don’t want to be in New York making assumptions about what independent voters in the Milwaukee suburbs are feeling about Donald Trump or Joe Biden,” said Patrick Healy, the Times’ political editor.

CNN - September 15, 2020

Top HHS spokesman apologizes to staff for accusing government scientists of sedition

Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Caputo on Tuesday apologized to staffers for a rant in which he accused career government scientists of "sedition" and working to undermine President Donald Trump, multiple sources familiar with the situation told CNN. Caputo -- a fierce defender of the President who was appointed to his post as assistant secretary of public affairs for HHS not long after the coronavirus pandemic began -- mentioned a series of conspiracy theories in a Sunday live video on his personal Facebook page, including that there is a "resistance unit" against Trump inside the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Caputo claimed that he thinks former Vice President Joe Biden will refuse to concede the election should Trump win, and political violence will ensue.

A source familiar with the matter said Caputo portrayed himself as a victim in his apology, but apologized for putting HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a bad light. Caputo's status at HHS is uncertain at this point and he was already treading on thin ice at the agency before the revelations about his comments on Facebook, a second source familiar with the situation said. It is unclear whether any action to move Caputo out of his current position is imminent, that source added, but discussions regarding Caputo's future are ongoing. The first source said Caputo did not bring up his future in the apology. A third source familiar with the situation said Caputo is dealing with potential health issues that could force him to step aside. Politico was first to report on Caputo's apology and The New York Times was first to report that he is considering a leave of absence. A source close to the White House coronavirus task force said Azar has been unhappy for some time with Caputo as deputy secretary. The source close to the White House said Caputo, who is a longtime Trump political operative, was forced upon Azar and the latest controversy likely won't help his standing with the secretary. During his Sunday broadside, Caputo lambasted the CDC, baselessly claiming that scientists "deep in the bowels of the CDC have given up science and become political animals." The scientists "haven't gotten out of their sweatpants except for meetings at coffee shops" to plot "how they're going to attack Donald Trump next," Caputo added.

NBC News - September 16, 2020

Republican senators in tough races obscure their position on pre-existing conditions

Republican senators facing tough re-election fights this fall are expressing support for insurance protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions, running ads at odds with their own recent votes and policy positions. The latest example came Tuesday when Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., who has voted repeatedly to repeal the Obamacare law that established those federal protections, released an emotional ad in which he sits with his mother and discusses her successful battle with cancer. "Cory wrote the bill to guarantee coverage to people with pre-existing conditions — forever," she says, looking directly at the camera. "No matter what happens to Obamacare," the senator adds.

But experts say the bill he cites doesn't do that. Gardner is one of several Republicans to obscure their record on pre-existing conditions as rising public support for Obamacare turns the issue into a liability for senators who have voted to repeal it. Republican senators are fighting to maintain control of the chamber, and that has left many telling voters they favor the most popular provisions after they backed legislation that would have chipped away at the protections in the 2010 law. The replacement plans they've supported fall short of fully restoring those rules, say health policy experts. Gardner’s 117-word-long legislation would require insurers "not impose any pre-existing condition exclusion" or "factor health status into premiums or charges.” The bill was introduced in August and has never received a hearing or a vote. Larry Levitt, the executive vice president for health policy at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, said Gardner's bill "contains a giant loophole" because insurance companies can simply "deny coverage altogether to people with pre-existing conditions." The current rules, created through the Affordable Care Act, include “guaranteed issue,” meaning insurance companies have to sell policies to people regardless of health status, Levitt said in an email. "The Gardner bill leaves out that requirement, meaning that insurers could deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, as they commonly did in the individual insurance market before the ACA," he said.

September 15, 2020

Lead Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Texas leads SBA pandemic relief loan fraud in national prosecutions

Jase DePaul Gautreaux’s scheme, federal prosecutors said, was to steal more than $13 million from a federal program created to help small business owners impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Gautreaux, the director of Wingate Funeral Home in the Almeda area, inflated the company payroll to qualify for more funds and filed multiple fraudulent applications using bogus business names he doesn’t own, two of which belonging to subsidiaries of the largest Italian oil and gas corporation, federal prosecutors allege. Gautreaux is among a handful of Texans accused of trying to defraud the Paycheck Protection Program of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES, according to the Department of Justice.

His is among three Houston cases and seven statewide currently under indictment, but at $13 million, may be one of the largest sums attempted by an individual. With the federal government beginning to take cases such as Gautreaux’s to court, Texas leads the country in PPP fraud indictments, which public records currently document at 45 nationwide and as of Thursday, involve 50 people. The PPP program provides forgivable loans backed by the Small Business Administration intended to cover, principally, payroll expenses to keep people employed and businesses running during the pandemic. With a $659 billion budget, the PPP loan received one of the highest fund allocations among all the programs included in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, passed by Congress in March. “We estimate that over $1 billion in verifiable criminal fraud exists in the Payroll Protection Program,” said Tom Miller, CEO of the risk management firm ClearForce, a company that has worked in fraud discovery with an SBA qualified lender of PPP loans.“What’s concerning is that verifiable criminal fraud is just a subset of the total fraud that likely exists in the program.”

San Antonio Current - September 14, 2020

Under agreement with FAA, San Antonio will offer Chick-fil-A concession at airport

In an informal agreement negotiated on September 10 with the Federal Aviation Administration, the City of San Antonio must now offer Chick-fil-A concession at the San Antonio International Airport. The FAA’s agreement comes as the result of an investigation initiated by the U.S. Department of Transportation at the request of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton shortly after city council’s March 2019 vote against granting a Chick-fil-A concession at the city’s airport.

At least one member of council, District 1's Roberto C. Treviño, said his vote was based on Chick-fil-A’s reputation for being anti-LGBTQ. However, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said his decision came down to the restaurants being closed on Sunday, which would reduce revenue for the city under its contract. In 2012, the fast-food chain’s CEO, Dan T. Cathy, said he opposed marriage equality. It also was revealed the company donated millions of dollars to political groups seen as hostile to LGBTQ rights. “With this decision, the city council reaffirmed the work our city has done to become a champion of equality and inclusion,” Councilman Roberto C. Treviño said at the time. Paxton complained the city was in non-compliance with the Airport and Airway Improvement Act of 1982 and the FAA Airport Improvement Program Grant Assurance 30.

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Oil demand could fall by 80 percent by 2050 under net-zero policies

Oil demand could fall by as much as 80 percent over the next three decades if net-zero policies are adopted worldwide to combat climate change, according to a new BP report. The British oil major on Monday published a report that forecast what the global energy landscape could look in 2050 under three scenarios: “Business as usual”, “Rapid” transition and “Net zero.” “Business as usual” assumes that governmental policies, technologies and societal behavior continues as normal while “Rapid” and “Net zero” assume that policies and behaviors shift quickly or drastically to reduce carbon emissions.

“The world is on an unsustainable path: the scenarios show that achieving a rapid and ?sustained fall in carbon emissions is likely to require a series of policy measures, led by a ?significant increase in carbon prices,” BP said in its “Energy Outlook” report. “These policies may need to be further reinforced by shifts ?in societal behaviours and preferences. Delaying these policies measures and societal shifts ?may significantly increase the scale of the challenge and lead to significant additional ?economic costs and disruption.” BP says oil demand could fall by 10 percent over the next 30 years under a business as usual scenario; 55 percent under a rapid scenario and 80 percent under a Net Zero scenario. In all three scenarios, the use of gasoline and diesel peaks during this decade. Global demand for natural gas will remain stronger than oil, BP said. Gas demand will increase by a third over the next three decades under a business as usual scenario while demand will call by a third under the Rapid and Net zero scenarios.

CNN - September 14, 2020

Judge rules Chad Wolf likely unlawfully serving as Homeland Security secretary and temporarily blocks some asylum restrictions

A federal judge in Maryland on Friday ruled that Chad Wolf is likely unlawfully serving as acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and temporarily barred the Trump administration from enforcing new asylum restrictions on members of two immigration advocacy groups, according to court documents. "In sum, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs are likely to demonstrate (former acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin) McAleenan's appointment was invalid under the agency's applicable order of succession, and so he lacked the authority to amend the order of succession to ensure Wolf's installation as Acting Secretary," Judge Paula Xinis' 69-page ruling said.

Xinis also wrote that "by extension, because Wolf filled the role of Acting Secretary without authority, he promulgated the challenged rules also 'in excess of...authority,' and not 'in accordance with the law.'" CNN has reached out to the department for comment. The preliminary finding that Wolf is likely unlawfully serving in his position came as a part of temporarily blocking two asylum rules while the lawsuit over those rules is heard. The case is ongoing. CNN has previously reported that the Government Accountability Office found that Wolf and Ken Cuccinelli, the senior official performing the duties of deputy secretary, were appointed as part of an invalid order of succession. "We vehemently disagree with what the GAO has put out," Wolf told CNN's Jake Tapper at the time. The Friday ruling comes weeks after President Donald Trump tweeted that he would officially appoint Wolf to take over the role on a permanent basis. Wolf's nomination was formally sent to the Senate last week. Wolf has been the acting secretary since November 2019. The department has not had a confirmed secretary since April 2019 when former Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to resign.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Texas teachers report hundreds of COVID safety violations since schools reopened

The Texas State Teachers Association on Monday asserted that schools statewide are not fully adhering to COVID-19 safety guidance, including Gov. Greg Abbott’s mask mandate and social distancing rules. In the two weeks since most schools once again began welcoming students, more than 650 TSTA members from 135 districts reported issues ranging from difficulties with ventilation systems to inadequate supplies for protecting themselves and their classes from the virus. The association said the findings, collected through an online survey, reinforce earlier concerns that teachers, students and other school employees may not yet be safe in the classroom.

The most-noted violation, TSTA says, is a lack of accommodations for employees who are most vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus or have high-risk family members at home. “The state can issue all the safety guidelines and protocols it wants, but if they are not enforced, they aren’t worth much,” TSTA President Ovidia Molina said in a release. “In some cases, inadequate funding may be an issue, particularly relating to the deficiencies in physical facilities.” TSTA spokesman Clay Robison said school districts should take the first step to enforce the safety recommendations, but “since many districts are failing, the governor and the Texas Education Agency should step in and require districts to enforce them,” he said in an email. He also encouraged parents to voice concerns to their elected school boards. Other violations noted in the survey include inadequate access to sanitation supplies, a lack of quarantine space, poor sick leave policies and insufficient availability of virtual learning resources for students.

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Richard Parker: How Texas will turn blue in November

When she left the increasingly bustling downtown of Big D, Marie Combs, a single, white petroleum geologist, chose a suburb just outside the loop, drawn by big lots, peace and green spaces. At first, she felt like an outsider in suburban Donald Trump country, and a dejected Democrat after her party’s losses in 2016. In four short years, all that changed. “Now, there’s a mix of people who’ve come from downtown,” she said, describing Latino and African American neighbors. “I like that my street is a mix of people. I like that my street looks like America.” Now in 2020, the battle for political power in the nation and Texas is being waged in suburbs just like hers which are increasingly less white and less conservative. Trump’s race baiting over these semi-urban hinterlands, his tweets quaintly beckoning “suburban housewives” isn’t just bigoted or misogynist; it’s just ill-informed.

He is right to focus on women voters — they are at the heart of the struggle over keeping Texas red or turning it blue because they are the rare demographic of Trump voter whose support has actually frayed. Recent polls put Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden just one to two points apart, but truth is, Trump has been dragging down Texas Republicans for a year. In a state usually ignored by Democratic presidential nominees, Biden is airing advertising in Texas. Democrats know that a Biden victory in the land of 38 electoral votes is their best hope of winning by a large enough margin to blunt Trump’s expected claims of a rigged election should he lose. The usual chorus of “It Can’t Happen Here” is already cranking up its conventional wisdom sound machine. “Texas will never be blue,” says Jeff Roe, who ran U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2018 squeaker against Beto O’Rourke. “It is highly likely that in the next four or eight years that it will be purple and competitive.” But the suburban shifts are so fundamental that the nay-saying chorus is very well singing a swan song. Claims of Texas’ stasis are greatly exaggerated. The Lone Star State is going to the Democrats in 2020. Need proof? Look first beyond Republicans themselves. Behold the great blue yonder.

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Sen. Cornyn stands against tribal gaming bill backed by East Texas Republicans

Congress is poised to allow gaming on the lands of two Native American tribes in Texas after the U.S. House passed a bill pushed by Texas Republicans to take the matter out of the hands of state officials, who have tried for years to shut down bingo facilities on the reservations. But standing in the way of the bipartisan legislation is U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who has pushed back on the bill in the Senate, siding with Texas’ top elected officials who view the bill as the federal government’s latest attempt to bigfoot state law that bans gaming. Cornyn, who is among the most powerful Republicans in the Senate, has urged the committee that would oversee the legislation not to hold hearings on it until the state and tribes can reach a “resolution” — something that has been out of reach for more than a decade as the two sides have battled in court.

The gambling bill is a rare instance of the longtime Republican senator clashing with members of the Texas delegation from his own party, including U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, who authored the legislation. Babin and 18 other members of the Texas delegation, 10 Republicans and eight Democrats, wrote to Cornyn last month urging him to support the bill. They wrote that the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta gaming facilities have an estimated $645 million annual impact on the economies of El Paso and Livingston, where they are based — “two areas that traditionally have high unemployment rates even before the pandemic.” It’s also a position that could cost Cornyn some support in East Texas as he faces what many expect to be his most difficult reelection fight yet. It’s a reliably Republican area, but one where virtually every elected official has backed the Alabama-Coushatta tribe’s electronic bingo operation, which they say supports hundreds of jobs in Polk County. Many have sought to turn up the heat on Cornyn in recent weeks.

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Texas’ future looks very different from its past

The most uncomfortable moment of any luncheon at a downtown hotel occurs, for me, at least, when a small army of servers marches to the tables with the main course. The attendees and I are usually dressed in nice suits and professional dresses. Most of us are Anglo, speaking in English. Most of us earn good salaries, are covered by health insurance and live in comfortable homes. The servers tend to be Latinos, mostly women, dressed in black and white, nylon uniforms. They avoid eye contact as they deliver plates to our tables. Managers on the sidelines urgently whisper instructions in Spanish. The servers are low-wage workers, many of whom are immigrants without health insurance or secure housing. They work diligently, knowing that one dropped plate could cost them their jobs. They try their best to be invisible, and to most of the guests, they are.

What’s apparent to me, though, is the inequality in opportunity and incomes, a cultural gap that disguises profound changes coming to Texas and the nation. How we address this divide will determine our future prosperity. Too often, Anglo men sit at the front of these luncheons, perpetuating a stereotypical image of a Texan. And they may have represented the majority in 1980, when Harris County was 63 percent Anglo, 20 percent Black, 16 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian, according to the Census Bureau. But by 2010, Harris County was 33 percent Anglo, 18 percent Black, 41 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Asian. The same transformation happened in Dallas County. Bexar County and the border have long been majority Latino. When we get the census results back for 2020, experts expect Hispanics will officially become the majority in Texas, according to the Texas Demographics Center. For the first time since the Battle of the Alamo, Anglos will be a minority. Population size, though, does not guarantee political power. Latinos only make up 30 percent of Texas’ eligible voters, mostly because so many are under 18, according to Pew Research, the polling and data organization.

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Houston Chronicle Editorial: Sno-cone splurges, Bible photo-ops and censorship? Time to overhaul DHS.

In Chad Wolf, President Donald Trump seems finally to have found someone he deems worthy to run the sprawling bureaucracy known as the Department of Homeland Security after months as acting head. He’s the fifth person during this administration to hold the job. Wolf, a lean, laconic Texan who grew up in Plano and earned all-American status as a tennis player at Collin College in McKinney, has spent the past couple of decades as a midlevel bureaucrat on Capitol Hill and as a transportation lobbyist during the Obama administration. However useful his skills and experience, accounts of his modus operandi would suggest that his most important qualification is sitting and listening to the president’s spur-of-the-moment schemes and ill-informed notions without pushing back. A loyal apparatchik, he has proven an enthusiastic implementer of Trump’s get-tough inclinations toward Portland and other Democratic-led cities trying to deal with demonstrations and sporadic disorder. And he loves Trump’s border wall.

Now comes word, via a whistleblower, that Wolf has directed DHS analysts to minimize threats from Russian election interference and from violent white supremacist groups in order to buttress Trump’s re-election prospects. The whistleblower is Brian Murphy, head of the department’s intelligence branch until his abrupt demotion last month. Murphy also claims the department’s acting second in command, Ken Cuccinelli, ordered him to modify intelligence assessments “to ensure they matched up with the public comments by Trump on the subject of antifa and “anarchist” groups.” If true, both men must go. Of course, they won’t. Fact is, though, problems at DHS are much deeper and more pervasive than the obsequiousness of two bureaucrats. Hastily created in the anxious wake of 9/11, DHS is a sprawling hodgepodge of 22 agencies that would defy even the most adept leadership. A new president, whenever he or she takes office, needs to make reforming the ill-conceived behemoth a top priority. Operating with a $50 billion budget and more than 240,000 employees, its mission includes such disparate activities as customs and border protection, counterterrorism, protecting the coasts, protecting the president, guarding against cyberattacks and dealing with natural disasters, among various other statutory obligations. DHS is also the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, with more than 60,000 law enforcement personnel reporting to Wolf. His last day in office, Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn issued a report summing up what he’d seen on the Senate Homeland Security Committee: “Despite spending nearly $61 billion annually and $544 billion since 2003, the Department of Homeland Security is not successfully executing any of its five main missions.”

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Houston’s climate change forecast predicts longer summers, stronger hurricanes in city's future

The Houston region will experience longer and hotter summers, heavier bouts of rain and stronger hurricanes through the end of the century due to climate change, according to a climate assessment report published Monday. Using data from 11 weather stations across the Greater Houston area, Texas Tech Climate Center scientists Anne Stoner and Katharine Hayhoe found that Houston has already experienced significant increases in temperature since 1950 due to climate change. Over the rest of the century, the region will see even longer summers, more days of 100-degree heat, hotter nights and more intense rainstorms. While other assessments have projected climate change’s impact to Texas and the Gulf Coast region at large, the report marks the first climate assessment focused on the Houston region, scientists and city officials said.

The results suggest that while some of the worst effects of climate change on Houstonians may still be prevented, the region is already feeling the impact. “Some amount of change is inevitable because of our choices,” Hayhoe said. “But the greater impacts are avoidable. We can no longer choose between mitigation and adaptation. We have to do both.” The report, which was limited to temperature and precipitation, makes projections under two different emissions scenarios — one for what the region’s climate would look like with no change in fossil fuel use and carbon emissions, and one that projects the region’s climate if the majority of the world follows Paris Agreement targets, which includes a transition to clean energy sources and significant reductions in carbon emissions. Increases in temperature and more intense hurricanes are expected under both scenarios, with more extreme changes under the higher emissions scenario, the report produced by Hayhoe’s ATMOS Research and Consulting firm found. The assessment was commissioned by the City of Houston.

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

USMCA, overshadowed by pandemic, seen speeding post-COVID recovery

Avocados, tomatoes, cars, computers and oil head north while gasoline, auto parts, computer chips, natural gas and corn head south. That’s the basic rhythm of trade along the U.S./Mexico border, where the two nations exchanged $41 billion worth of goods in June — roughly $1.4 billion per day, or nearly $1 million per minute. Shutdowns related to the coronavirus pandemic have not stopped cross-border trade, but they have slowed it. The $243 billion in trade between the two nations during the first six months of the year marked a 21 percent drop from the nearly $309 billion one year prior, according to Miami trade data firm World City. Once the pandemic ends, however, international trade experts expect a quick recovery, spurred by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Known as USMCA, the three-way trade deal was drafted as an update to the 26-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement. The pact, signed by all three nations in November 2018, quietly went into effect July 1.

Taking effect as the United States and Mexico struggle to contain the spread of the highly contagious and deadly virus, USMCA is expected to speed the post-COVID recovery, especially in Texas, a border state World City figures show accounted for nearly two-thirds of U.S. trade with Mexico through June. Although the deal largely kept NAFTA intact, USMCA has some important updates that are expected to add jobs and keep more money in the region. Automobiles must now have 75 percent of their components made in either the United States, Canada or Mexico to be tariff-free. That’s an increase from the 62.5 percent under NAFTA. USMCA also added provisions for intellectual property, cross-border data transfers and digital commerce, which did not exist when NAFTA was enacted in January 1994 but have since become economic drivers. “We’re not talking about a small market here,” said Alicia Kerber-Palma, Mexico’s consul general in Houston. “On the contrary, this deal represents over $1.5 billion of daily trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that benefits 500 million consumers in all three countries. We’re talking about almost 19 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.” Mexico ended last year as the No. 1 trading partner for the United States for the first time ever, a position it reached thanks in large part to the U.S.-China trade war. And of the $615 billion of trade between the two nations last year, more than $14.1 billion went through the Port of Houston, making Mexico the Bayou City’s top trading partner in 2019, World City trade figures show. The pandemic has temporarily slowed the port’s energy-heavy trade with Mexico, but commercial ties with Houston and Texas run deeper than just shipments of crude oil, gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

Houston Chronicle - September 15, 2020

As pipeline projects cancel, future falls into question

For years, a small clique of investors has questioned the logic of putting money into oil and gas pipelines that take decades to pay off when climate change policy was pushing the energy sector away from fossil fuels. Banks and other institutions, however, largely continued to finance the multi-billion-dollar projects, confident in projections by oil and gas companies that the so-called energy transition would take time and oil and natural gas would be needed for decades to come. But a rash of cancellations and delays of new pipelines, largely brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, raises questions of whether those skeptics’ warnings are starting to catch on and the cancellations reflect a newfound wariness among banks to back the projects in view of an uncertain future for fossil fuels.

“No doubt some of these decisions are short term concern, but also an understanding there is a long term risk profile for (pipeline) assets that cost billions of dollars and at best have 10-year shipper commitments,” said Andrew Logan, head of oil and gas at Ceres, a nonprofit advising investors on sustainability. “There’s a lot more exposure for investors than had been understood before.” The movement and processing of crude oil and natural gas is the core of Houston’s economy, with not only most of North America’s largest pipeline companies based here, employing thousands of workers, but billions of dollars in investment in new crude and liquefied natural gas terminals for tankers to export abroad. So far this year, the Houston refiner Phillips 66 has announced it is indefinitely deferring two pipelines, one running from Wyoming to the oil hub in Cushing, Okla. and another, in partnership with the Houston pipeline company Plains All American, from Cushing to the Texas Gulf Coast. Another Houston pipeline company, Kinder Morgan, told analysts in March it was uncertain when its Permian Pass natural gas pipeline would be built because it had been unable to secure contracts with customers. Last week Enterprise Products Partners, also of Houston, surprised analysts when it said it was cancelling its own pipeline bringing oil from the Permian Basin despite previously saying it had contracts in place. “(The project delays and cancellations) are pretty uncommon, especially if there were committed shippers already signed up, as in the case of the Enterprise project,” said Aaron Brady, an analyst at IHS Markit.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 14, 2020

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, from Arlington, hospitalized due to cancer treatment complications

U.S. Rep. Ron Wright, a freshman Republican from Arlington, was admitted to the Baylor Medical Center in Dallas on Sunday due to complications related to his treatment for lung cancer. “Congressman Wright has been in a tough battle with cancer this year, after overcoming a first bout with the disease in 2018,” read a statement from his campaign.

Wright announced in July 2019 that he was undergoing radiation treatment to combat the second bout of cancer. At the time, he told the Star-Telegram that he learned of his diagnosis during a routine physical but was optimistic that he would not let the disease define him. Earlier this month, Wright was treated at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, and returned to Arlington, according to his campaign. “With a diagnosis like this, you don’t stop living, dreaming, trying to make a difference,” Wright told the Star-Telegram in July 2019. “You don’t give up. You can still be effective in what you are doing, whatever it is. “Cancer can be as much life affirming as it is life threatening.” Wright, a lifelong Texan, represents the 6th Congressional District that includes southeast Tarrant County, including most of Arlington and Mansfield, and all of Ellis and Navarro counties. He first took office in 2018, and is running for reelection this November. He is a former Arlington city councilman and former Tarrant County tax assessor collector. “The Wright family appreciates the prayers and well wishes offered by everyone,” the news release said.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 14, 2020

Fort Worth researchers get $45 million for Alzheimer’s research in Mexican community

University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth researchers will be the recipients of a grant award expected to total more than $45 million to examine the biological differences that cause Alzheimer’s disease to disproportionately afflict Mexican Americans. It is the largest research grant ever awarded to the Health Science Center, according to a university news release. “This is a transformative award for our university,” HSC President Dr. Michael Williams said. “HSC is recognized as a national leader in the quest to unlock the mysteries of Alzheimer’s disease and to discover new interventions to help prevent this deadly disease.”

Sid O’Bryant, professor and executive director of the Institute for Translational Research, and Leigh Johnson, the program’s associate director, seek to understand the biological framework of Alzheimer’s disease in multi-ethnic populations and how it differs from that of non-Latino whites, the release said. For example, Mexican Americans develop Alzheimer’s disease 10 years earlier than whites on average. Most of the existing Alzheimer’s research focuses on non-Latino whites, the release said. The new funding will build on the HABLE (Health & Aging Brain among Latino Elders) study, a five-year project at HSC that O’Bryant started in 2017, which is funded by a $12 million National Institutes of Health grant. Almost 1,000 Mexican Americans and 1,000 non-Latino whites 50 and older from North Texas have enrolled in the study into how different biological causes relate to Alzheimer’s disease across ethnicities. HABLE participants undergo free comprehensive interviews, functional exams, clinical laboratory tests, a brain MRI and more.

Dallas Morning News - September 14, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: Amid debate to defund the police, Dallas County DA’s plan to divert mentally ill offenders does something better

It should not be against the law to be mentally ill. Yet the Dallas County jail is perennially the second largest mental health treatment facility in the state -- trailing only its counterpart in Houston. That unjustly grim statistic has been reported so often that many Texans brush right past it, just as we do the mentally ill individuals loitering outside convenience stores or asking for money in shopping center parking lots. But not Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot. He vowed after taking office to end another form of insanity: Tossing these suffering individuals onto the same old legal hamster wheel and hoping for a different result.

Eighteen months after Creuzot’s pledge, Dallas County commissioners can jumpstart the DA’s proposal for a vastly more effective way forward when they vote Tuesday on the 2021 budget “Maybe I’m not looking so dumb after all,” Creuzot texted me just after commissioners voiced tentative support earlier this month for the $1 million needed to create a deflection center that will get these low-level offenders off the streets and on a path to recovery. Creuzot’s text referenced the firestorm he created in April 2019 when he announced a series of reforms aimed at decriminalizing poverty and creating a justice system that is fairer across race and socio-economic lines. Looking back at his promise to find a better solution for petty offenses such as criminal trespass -- the charge that most often lands mentally ill and homeless citizens in jail -- I’d say Creuzot looks pretty darn smart.

Dallas Morning News - September 15, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Our recommendation for Denton mayor

Like so many cities, Denton faces the challenge of how best to shape its future, maintain stable neighborhoods and attract a commercial, industrial and corporate tax base to provide jobs and reduce the tax burden on residents. Already considered a population boom town, Denton’s growth is requiring better transportation planning, economic development and affordable and middle-income housing to match projected growth. Our recommendation for Denton mayor goes to Mayor Pro Tem Gerard Hudspeth over Denton City Council member Keely Briggs and delivery driver Michael Mitchell.

Briggs and Hudspeth possess the passion, experience and desire to work toward constructive solutions for Denton, and residents would be well served by either as mayor. However, we think that Hudspeth’s lifelong ties to Denton and a focus on growth issues and core issues such as public safety, roads, parks and libraries makes him a strong choice. Hudspeth, 47, has represented District 1, which covers central and southeast Denton, since 2017. The son of longtime Denton civil rights activist Willie Hudspeth, who waged a two-decades long battle to remove a Confederate statue from Denton’s town square, brings a different perspective to the mayor’s office. Several years ago, Gerard Hudspeth was part of a meeting between civil rights leaders and law enforcement that sought better communication between Denton youth and the police, and he has served on numerous city committees. Briggs, 45, ran for the Texas Senate District 30 seat in 2018 as an independent, and since 2015 has represented Denton’s District 2, which spans most of the city’s northeast side. She has amassed an impressive civic résumé and is known as a hard worker who does her homework.

Austin American-Statesman - September 15, 2020

Bastrop County COVID-19 positivity rate half of state average

The seven day COVID-19 positivity rate in Bastrop County has dropped to 3.37% as of Monday, roughly half that of the state’s 6.63% average, according to Bastrop County officials. The low positivity rate, which is the average rate of people testing positive for the virus among those tested, indicates that the spread of the virus is rapidly slowing down throughout the county.

“We are continuing to see a slowing down of the number of new cases and an increase in the number of recoveries,” said Bastrop County Office Emergency Management Deputy Director Christine Files. “These are really good numbers and we need to keep these going.” On Monday the county reported 1,691 total confirmed COVID-19 cases since the coronavirus pandemic began in mid-March. Of those confirmed cases, there were 152 active cases with 1,505 people who have recovered as of Monday, according to county data. The county has had 28 deaths due to the virus. Though the county’s positivity rate has dropped, it is expected to rise again as school districts return to in-person instruction, Files said. “Undoubtedly there’s going to be an uptick in the coming week as now we’re going to in-person classes in schools and sports has started,” Files said. “But (the low positivity rate) is definitely encouraging news for not only Bastrop County but the entire state.”

Austin American-Statesman - September 11, 2020

Ken Herman: Your money or your vote

Candidates in the upcoming Nov. 3 elections really want your vote. But first, what they really, really want is your money. In the right denomination, and if given a choice, some candidates would choose your money over your vote. Former U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, used to call ready money “the most reliable friend in American politics” and “the mother’s milk of politics.” Gramm has been gone from the political scene for a while. Money’s still here.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at about two hours or so of fundraising emails that recently hit my email inbox. Please enjoy with me the creative narratives crafted by fundraising pros wise to the ways of getting into your wallet. (FYI, I get emails from both parties, but this year they skew to the Democratic side, possibly because this year, for the first time in a while, I voted in the Dem primary.) You and I are going to scoff at some of these. But keep this in mind: They’re the products of pros, which means they wouldn’t use these approaches if history didn’t tell them that they work. You know, sort of like the scam calls you get all day. First, let’s look at an early morning email from Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Hays County. Oh, he’s very excited on this morning and wanted to share his excitement with me. “I wanted to pass along some exciting news, our first TV ad is out and you can see it here!” he told me. “The ad focuses on defending our values and independent spirit as Texans.” He really wanted me to watch the ad. And he really, really wanted me to do something else: “Please watch the ad and chip in $25, $50, $250 or even $500 to help us keep it on air.”

San Antonio Current - September 13, 2020

COVID69, MUD BUTT and NOPENIS are among the vanity plates Texas has rejected this year

If the only vulgarities you experience on your morning commute are those you shout at other motorists, thank — or blame — the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. During the first half of this year, the DMV rejected 2,151 vanity license plates requested by Texans that it deemed too crude, offensive or otherwise unworthy to appear on state-issued property. In keeping with the 2020 zeitgeist, those included both "FU COVID" and "COVID69." Also among those getting the thumbs down were timeless references to body parts, sexual maneuvers and poop — "NOPENIS," "GRRINDN" and "MUD BUTT," for example.

Understandably, state rules reject any language that disparages groups based on race, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Hell, to play it safe, the DMV even turns down references those groups that aren't derogatory, according to its website. Texas also prohibits license plate letter and number combinations that could be read as vulgar (meaning they include cuss words) or indecent (meaning they refer to "a sexual act, sexual body parts, excrement, or bodily fluids or functions"). That means "IF4RTED," "WEINER" and "PHO CUE" won't fly. And we know that because all three were also among the year's rejected plates. Interestingly, the state's rules even include a specific clarification about an oft-requested numerical combo. Explains the DMV: "'69' formats are prohibited unless used in combination with the vehicle make, for example, '69 CHEV'." Good to know.

McAllen Monitor - September 14, 2020

Hidalgo Co. health authority says not so fast on returning to school this month

Although some Hidalgo County school districts have indicated tentative dates for the return of in-person instruction, whether students are allowed to come back to campus at the end of the month is still anything but a certainty, at least according to Hidalgo County Health Authority Dr. Ivan Melendez. On July 14, Melendez issued an order preventing both private and public schools — from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade — from returning to campus until after Sept. 27. This required instruction to be provided exclusively through virtual, remote or distance-learning.

“The general recommendations on today’s date have not changed very significantly,” Melendez said in a public service announcement released by Hidalgo County on Monday. “We’re optimistic, because we see things trending in the right way, we see more people paying more attention, but there’s still room for improvement. I think all of us as we drive through our daily back to work and stuff can see that there’s still a lack of compliance and social distancing.” Melendez’s order from July also prevents schools from hosting any school-sponsored events and activities, such as clubs, sports, fairs, exhibitions and academic or athletic competitions until on-campus instruction resumes, and requires districts to develop and submit a plan to parents and the public for their re-opening at least two weeks before resuming on-campus instruction.

WFAA - September 14, 2020

Dallas County reports 340 new cases, plus 100 cases from previous months

Dallas County is reporting 440 additional cases of COVID-19, 100 of which were from previous months as reported by the state health department. Three additional deaths were reported, including a Garland man in his 50s who was found dead at his home and had underlying high-risk health conditions, Dallas County Health and Human Services said.

A man from Farmer's Branch in his 70s died after he was critically ill at an area hospital. A Dallas man in his 50s died after he had been hospitalized, the department said. Of the cases reported from the state, 56 were from August, 43 were from July, one was from June and 208 are from September. "With the weather getting cooler, I encourage people who frequent an establishment where you are eating to choose take-out, delivery or patio dining," Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins said in a statement. "For visitors to your home, it is best to be masked and outdoor gatherings are preferable to indoor gatherings." In the week ending on Sept. 5, there were 104 confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases in school-aged children, the county said. That was a decline from the previous week for the age group. From Aug. 15 to Aug. 28, there were 317 school-aged children from 5 to 17 years of age who were diagnosed with COVID-19. There have been 75,648 cases in the county and 976 deaths.

San Antonio Express-News - September 15, 2020

Chris Tomlinson: Texas’ future looks very different from its past

The most uncomfortable moment of any luncheon at a downtown hotel occurs, for me, at least, when a small army of servers marches to the tables with the main course. The attendees and I are usually dressed in nice suits and professional dresses. Most of us are Anglo, speaking in English. Most of us earn good salaries, are covered by health insurance and live in comfortable homes. The servers tend to be Latinos, mostly women, dressed in black and white, nylon uniforms. They avoid eye contact as they deliver plates to our tables. Managers on the sidelines urgently whisper instructions in Spanish. The servers are low-wage workers, many of whom are immigrants without health insurance or secure housing. They work diligently, knowing that one dropped plate could cost them their jobs. They try their best to be invisible, and to most of the guests, they are.

What’s apparent to me, though, is the inequality in opportunity and incomes, a cultural gap that disguises profound changes coming to Texas and the nation. How we address this divide will determine our future prosperity. Too often, Anglo men sit at the front of these luncheons, perpetuating a stereotypical image of a Texan. And they may have represented the majority in 1980, when Harris County was 63 percent Anglo, 20 percent Black, 16 percent Hispanic and 2 percent Asian, according to the Census Bureau. But by 2010, Harris County was 33 percent Anglo, 18 percent Black, 41 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Asian. The same transformation happened in Dallas County. Bexar County and the border have long been majority Latino. When we get the census results back for 2020, experts expect Hispanics will officially become the majority in Texas, according to the Texas Demographics Center. For the first time since the Battle of the Alamo, Anglos will be a minority.

KUT - September 11, 2020

COVID-19 is keeping students of color from returning to college. But not at Southwestern.

Alex Bell knew senior year at Southwestern University was going to look like no other, but the anthropology major wanted to be back on campus. “Having a separate workspace and home space for me is really important,” Bell (who goes by "they") said. “So I kind of wanted to do in-person as much as was available to me."

Bell received some scholarships, but also works to pay for school. When the pandemic hit, they were coming back from studying abroad, and their workplace had temporarily closed. Bell lived off savings while looking for another job, then turned to Southwestern for help. “I actually had to use the emergency fund to get groceries when I first came back to the United States and was unemployed,” Bell said, referring to a fund set up by the Georgetown school to help students. “This past month, I was struggling [and] had some unexpected expenses come up. And so, yes, Southwestern has provided me with groceries a couple of times this year.” The COVID-19 pandemic has hit people of color harder than other populations, both physically and economically. And with lost income and health concerns, many students of color have not re-enrolled in college this fall. Southwestern University in Georgetown is trying to reverse that trend. That meant helping Bell cover some bills so they could continue their education.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 14, 2020

Dallas City Council member wants to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana

When Dallas County created a cite-and-release policy in 2017, the goal was to stop jailing people for low-level marijuana offenses. Those with less than 4 ounces of the drug would get a ticket and be sent on their way. But Dallas police continue booking people into the county jail on misdemeanor marijuana possession charges, and county statistics show that more than 90% of those arrested are Black and Hispanic. Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot implemented his own policy and has refused to file misdemeanor possession cases against first-time offenders.

Now, Adam Bazaldua wants to put a stop to what he calls wasted taxpayer money and racial inequity. The Dallas City Council member is proposing to decriminalize personal possession of marijuana under 2 ounces, meaning no one would be arrested or cited anymore for that amount. “They [police] send them on their way,” he said. “That’s it.” Under his plan, the Dallas Police Department’s general orders would be changed so that officers are prohibited from making the low-level possession arrests, said Bazaldua, whose district includes East and South Dallas. He said 97 percent of pot arrests in Dallas are for less than 2 ounces. Police Chief U. Reneé Hall, who is leaving the department at the end of the year, declined an interview on the subject. But her department issued a statement that said: “The majority of the marijuana arrests are made after the person has been arrested for another charge.” The chief has previously defended her enforcement efforts, saying she’s heard from residents who complain that marijuana poses a quality-of-life issue in their communities, and that she cannot overlook “illegal activity.”

Dallas Morning News - September 14, 2020

Dallas bar Bottled Blonde did not break COVID-19 overcrowding rules, say 2 government agencies

Agents from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) and from City of Dallas Code Compliance visited Dallas nightclub Bottled Blonde multiple times in the past few weeks and found no violations, according to state and city records obtained by The Dallas Morning News. The Deep Ellum business had been under investigation after citizens complained. A news story from Fox4 also alleged that Bottled Blonde was “still operating mostly like a bar” even though bars have been forced to close temporarily by Gov. Greg Abbott to help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

But more than 650 bars across Texas have been given the green light to reopen after receiving a food and beverage certificate from TABC, Bottled Blonde included. Katy Trail Ice House in Uptown Dallas, Billy Bob’s Texas in Fort Worth and Texas Live in Arlington are three large-sized venues in Dallas-Fort Worth that have been allowed to reopen during the pandemic. However, medical experts like these three Texas doctors say North Texans would keep themselves and others safer if they did not mingle indoors at bars. Dallas Morning News photos from two recent Friday nights show Bottled Blonde with crowds of patrons waiting to get into the bar, some not wearing masks. Mike Massof, the assistant general manager at Bottled Blonde, says the optics — that Bottled Blonde looks busy even though he says it’s following safety protocols — are hurting its reputation. “That’s been our biggest hurdle," Massof says. "But, as you know, perception is reality.”

Houston Chronicle - September 14, 2020

Baytown officer Juan Delacruz indicted in 2019 shooting death of Pamela Turner

A Harris County grand jury on Monday indicted a Baytown police officer in connection to the 2019 shooting death of a Black woman apparently undergoing a mental health crisis. The indictment comes more than a year after police said Officer Juan Delacruz shot 44-year-old Pamela Turner during an encounter at her apartment complex. Her case quickly garnered national attention because of her family's belief that the Baytown Police Department and the officer were aware of her paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis. Fueling community outrage was also a bystander video that captured the mother of two yelling "I'm pregnant" just moments before she was shot. That statement turned out to be false, police said, but angered people who felt Delacruz should have done more to de-escalate the situation.

Delacruz faces a count of aggravated assault by a public servant in the May 13, 2019, shooting, according to the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. The charge is a first-degree felony that carries a punishment of five years to life in prison. “Pam Turner’s killing was a tragedy; it is important to acknowledge that her family and the community are in pain,” Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said in a statement. “Every aspect of the case was independently investigated by the Texas Rangers and our Civil Rights Division prosecutors. Ultimately, we presented all of the evidence to a grand jury that determined the Baytown Police officer should be charged with a crime for his actions when he shot Ms. Turner. We respect their decision and we will be moving forward with prosecution.” The Baytown Police Department released a statement after the district attorney's office announced the indictment. Delacruz is still employed at the agency.

National Stories

Spectrum News - September 14, 2020

Joe Biden assembles legal team ahead of divisive 2020 presidential election

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is assembling a team of top lawyers in anticipation of court challenges to the election process that could ultimately determine who wins the race for the White House.

Biden’s presidential campaign says the legal war room will work to ensure that elections are properly administered and votes correctly counted. It will also seek to combat voter suppression at the polls, identify foreign interference and misinformation, and educate voters on the different methods available for casting ballots. The effort, which the Biden campaign described as the largest election protection program in presidential campaign history, reflects the extent of the preparation underway for an already divisive presidential contest in November that could produce significant, perhaps even decisive, court cases over voter access and the legitimacy of mail ballots.

Associated Press - September 14, 2020

New PBS film probes effect of construction boom on Latino workers

Since the Great Recession, cities like Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, and Hobbs, New Mexico, have seen construction booms. Homes and skyscrapers have popped up almost overnight thanks to cheap labor Latino immigrants provide contractors. But at what cost? “Building the American Dream,” a new VOCES/PBS documentary, examines the effects of this construction boom in the American Southwest on Latino workers by telling the stories of those erecting buildings in Texas. The film dives into the lives of one Mexican immigrant family in Texas after their construction worker son dies while on the job. A Salvadorian electrician couple is cheated out of wages and tries to force a contractor to pay despite having no union to back them up.

Meanwhile, advocates work to try to convince lawmakers and city officials to make lives better for workers, not by demanding insurance or workers’ compensation, but through a simple request: water breaks. Director Chelsea Hernandez said she’d been working on the film since 2009 and it’s a microcosm of the exploitation Latino construction workers face in the U.S. “It’s something that came organically and by talking to the workers I met,” said Hernandez, a third-generation Mexican American filmmaker from Austin, Texas.

NBC News - September 15, 2020

Israel, Arab states set to sign Trump-brokered deals in White House ceremony

Israel will officially sign deals to normalize ties with the Gulf states of the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Tuesday that were brokered by President Donald Trump in what is described as a diplomatic breakthrough. The agreements — called the Abraham Accords — will be signed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Emirati Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif Al Zayani during a ceremony at the White House. “Instead of focusing on past conflicts, people are now focused on creating a vibrant future filled with endless possibilities,” White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who helped negotiate the agreements, said in a statement late on Monday.

UAE and Bahrain are the third and fourth Arab states to normalize ties with Israel despite the country not having reached a resolution to the entrenched dispute with the Palestinians. Decades have since past since the first two peace treaties with Israel were signed by Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The new agreements will see Israel suspend its claim of sovereignty over areas outlined in the Trump administration's Mideast peace plan. While marking a diplomatic victory for Trump ahead of November's presidential election, the agreements have outraged Palestinians, sparking protests across the region. Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh condemned the move, saying on Twitter that it erodes unity between Arab states.

ABC News - September 15, 2020

Historically red, this Orlando-area county is Florida's surprising new battleground

Seminole County, just north of Orlando and long a stronghold for Florida Republicans, has emerged as a surprising toss-up this fall in a state that recent polling suggests is up for grabs between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. No Democratic presidential nominee has won Seminole since Harry Truman in 1948, and the county appeared firmly in Republican hands as recently as 2016, when registered Republicans there outnumbered registered Democrats by more than 13,000 voters. But that gap has closed -- and quickly.

As of last month's primaries, Democrats trailed Republicans by only 1,000 voters, thanks to efforts to woo moderate Republicans and unregistered voters and to the changing demographic composition of the county, which has brought more liberal-leaning voters inside county lines. In addition, a Democrat won the congressional district that includes Seminole County in 2016 -- the first time since the early 1990s -- while statewide Democratic candidates Andrew Gillum, the former Tallahassee mayor who ran for governor, and former Sen. Bill Nelson beat their Republican counterparts in the county two years ago. "I would say we're purple at this point," David Johnson, Seminole County's property appraiser, told ABC News. Republican presidential candidates have long been able to rely on the county, often winning by large margins there. In 2000, when Florida was decided by just 537 votes, former President George W. Bush beat former Vice President Al Gore in Seminole by more than 16,000 votes. Rob Bial witnessed the struggles Democrats in Seminole went through then. Having moved to the county in 1998, he remembers attending Seminole Democratic Party meetings. "I was looking at a bunch of old people," said Bial. After Trump won Seminole (and Florida) in 2016, Democrats' attitudes there changed, according to Bial. "There was a huge outpouring of desire to get involved," he said. "And I was part of that." In fact, when Bial was appointed chair of the Seminole Democrats the following year, he began trying to chip away at Republicans' voter registration advantage. Doing so required greater levels of organization.

Politico - September 14, 2020

South Dakota’s attorney general reported hitting a deer with his car. But it was a man.

South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg thought he had hit a deer in a car crash Saturday night. But by the next morning, it turned out he'd hit a man. Ravnsborg reported to the local county sheriff that he'd hit a deer Saturday after getting into a collision at around 10:30 p.m., the South Dakota Department of Public Safety said. But by the next morning, a pedestrian's body was discovered near the site of the crash on a stretch of rural road. He was later identified as 55-year-old Joseph Boever of Highmore, S.D. Ravnsborg was not injured in the crash, the Department of Public Safety said.

Gov. Kristi Noem confirmed Ravnsborg's involvement in the fatal crash during a news conference Sunday morning. The state's Department of Public Safety is continuing to investigate the incident. Noem said the department would report directly to her on the investigation. "This is a tragic accident and the Office of the Attorney General extends our deepest sympathy and condolences to the family of Mr. Boever," Tim Bormann, Ravnsborg's chief of staff, said in a statement to POLITICO. "The Attorney General, and our office, are cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation of this event and will continue to do so." Ravnsborg was traveling home from a Republican fundraiser over a hundred miles away, The Associated Press reported. State Sen. Brock Greenfield, who was at the fundraisers, told the AP that Ravnsborg was not drinking alcohol at the event, saying, "I didn’t see him with anything but a Coke.”

CNN - September 15, 2020

As Hurricane Sally bears down on the Gulf coast, a man who lost his house in Katrina says all he can do is prepare

The slow-moving Hurricane Sally weakened to a Category 1 storm early Tuesday, but is expected to gain strength before making landfall along the Gulf Coast as a "dangerous hurricane," according to the National Hurricane Center. The center of the storm is expected to move near the coast of southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday, reaching land Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, the hurricane center said. The storm has slowed as it approaches the Gulf Coast.

As of early Tuesday, it was traveling west at 3 mph, with sustained winds of 90 mph, down from 110 mph on Monday. Life threatening storm surge and flash flooding is expected along the northern Gulf Coast, where some areas could see more than 20 inches of rain. hurricane warning is in effect from Grand Isle, Louisiana, to Navarre, Florida. A storm surge warning is in effect from Port Fourchon, Louisiana, to the Okaloosa/Walton County border in Florida. The storm's slow foward movement means more rain for a longer duration along that region of the Gulf Coast, according to CNN meteorologist Michael Guy. Some coastal communities are already reporting flooding.

September 14, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 14, 2020

Joe Straus: Texas should extend voting by mail to all

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our world: Students have spent months learning from home instead of their usual classrooms, adults have spent far too long away from their aging parents, and we rarely leave home without masks in hand. In almost every part of life, we have made accommodations. Some have been merely inconvenient, and others have caused businesses and jobs to be lost. But we have learned to adapt to all sorts of changes in our daily lives. Why should voting be any different?

We all know people who want to vote but are also concerned about standing in line for long periods. Fortunately, Gov. Greg Abbott has extended the usual early-voting period this year to reduce crowds, but more could be done. Our state should accommodate voters and allow them to decide whether they meet the criteria for casting ballots by mail, as the Texas Supreme Court has indicated they can. With reasonable safeguards in place, we can ensure a secure, free, fair — and healthy — election this November. We should, after all, want more Texans exercising their civic duty and participating in our democratic process, and that solemn responsibility begins with the act of voting. But some Texas officials are going out of their way to discourage voting by mail. Republican campaigns have long utilized mail-in voting as a way to make sure certain voices, such as senior citizens and others who cannot physically make it to the polls, are heard. But this year, it’s disappointing that Republican leaders in Texas are not taking the increased demand for voting by mail more seriously.

Texas Public Radio - September 14, 2020

Arizona, previously a Covid-19 hot spot, begins to subdue its outbreak thanks to allowing local governments to enforce their own restrictions

As recently as mid-July, Arizona was in the midst of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak. It repeatedly logged more than 3,000 cases a day, putting it in a category alongside more populous states such as Texas, Florida and California as the hottest of the nation’s hot spots. Two months later, Arizona is telling a different story. The number of newly reported cases in the state fell 72% in August, compared with a month earlier, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over that same period, the number of deaths in the state fell by roughly one-third.

“It really has allowed us to be much more muscular,” said Francisco García, Pima County’s chief medical officer, referring to the governor’s June order giving local municipalities more power. Pima County includes the city of Tucson. Mr. Ducey has encouraged people to wear masks, but hasn’t implemented a statewide mandate. In July, mayors of some of the state’s biggest cities, including Phoenix, sent a letter to the governor asking for a more coordinated approach to handling the pandemic. “We wanted to make the best decisions that would save the maximum amount of lives while prioritizing lives but also livelihoods,” Mr. Ducey said in an interview. “And there was too much game-playing around mayors that only wanted to lock everything down, and I wasn’t going to allow that to happen when it wasn’t in the best interest of saving lives.” In the spring, the state, like many others, avoided serious problems. But in the weeks after the state’s stay-at home-order expired, things worsened as people started venturing out.

Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2020

Path of the pandemic: How the coronavirus came to Texas

Last winter, when Dr. James Musser read about the new coronavirus circulating in China, he told his group to get ready. Musser, a top infectious disease expert at Houston Methodist Hospital, wanted a test he could deploy quickly, because he was sure the virus would make its way to Texas. “Houston, like Dallas, has ties to essentially everywhere in the world,” he said. Houston Methodist set up a test for the novel coronavirus in February and deployed it in early March, when the hospital saw its first suspected cases of COVID-19. While Musser had made the test for patients, he also used it to lay the groundwork for an added benefit: reconstructing how the virus arrived in Texas.

As increasing numbers of patients tested positive, Musser and his team compared their virus samples with strains from around the world. What emerged surprised him. Unlike the West Coast, which received many of its first cases from China, and New York, which received many of its early cases from Europe, Houston samples of the virus came from a range of countries. “The only reasonable interpretation is that there were multiple independent introductions of strains to Houston from multiple geographic areas,” said Musser about his research, which he posted online in May. “Some of the strains matched strains from the far East, some matched strains from Europe, some matched strains from South America.” While Musser has not studied COVID-19 in North Texas, he said the virus likely followed a similar pattern here. Both urban areas are major travel hubs that serve large, diverse populations. In the six months since the first COVID-19 case was detected in Texas on March 4, scientists have worked to understand how and when the virus first made its way here, and how it spread through our communities. Tracing its early path will help policymakers prepare for future pandemics by showing how well interventions such as travel restrictions and social distancing have worked.

Associated Press - September 14, 2020

Biden faces worries that Latino support slipping in Florida

Sen. Kamala Harris’ motorcade raced past Colombian neighborhoods and made a quick stop for takeout in Doral — or “Doral-zuela” as it’s known locally because of its large Venezuelan population — before speeding through the Cuban stronghold of Hialeah. But during her first trip to Florida as Joe Biden’s running mate last week, Harris did little to court this region’s booming — and politically influential — Latino population. She instead focused on African American leaders waiting at a historically Black university in Miami Gardens. “You truly are the future of our country,” Harris said into a megaphone after the motorcade pulled up to Florida Memorial University, where a marching band serenaded her ahead of an hourlong discussion with local Black leaders. “You are the ones who are going to inspire us and fight for the ideals of our country.”

In America’s leading presidential battleground, there’s mounting anxiety among Democrats that the Biden campaign’s standing among Latinos is slipping, potentially giving President Donald Trump an opening in his reelection bid. That’s fueling an urgent effort by Biden, Harris and their allies to shore up older voters, suburbanites and African Americans to make up for potential shortcomings elsewhere. New York billionaire Mike Bloomberg committed over the weekend to spend at least $100 million in Florida to help the Democratic ticket. Biden is scheduled to make his first visit to the state as the Democratic nominee on Tuesday, where he will hold a roundtable with veterans in Tampa before attending a Hispanic Heritage Month event in Kissimmee. If Biden reclaims the upper Midwest for Democrats, he won’t need Florida to capture the presidency. But Trump has virtually no path to reelection without it, which is why the state remains a top priority for Democrats. Concerns about Biden’s strength in Florida were driven in part by an NBC-Marist poll released last week, which found Latinos in the state about evenly divided between Biden and Trump. Hillary Clinton led Trump by a 59% to 36% margin among Latinos in the same poll in 2016. Trump ultimately beat Clinton in Florida by just over 1 percentage point.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 13, 2020

HISD started desegregating 60 years ago. The legacy lives on through one Houston family

When the time finally arrived in 1960 to begin integrating Houston ISD schools, a landmark victory for the city’s Black residents after years of stalling by white segregationists, Burnett and Helene Ross wanted their two young daughters at the front of the line. At the time, the Rosses already were known as trailblazers. He started the city’s first ambulance service for Black residents. She served as Wheatley High School’s first female drum major. Together, they owned a prominent family mortuary. Now, another breakthrough called. So, 60 years ago this September, with the images of enraged crowds attempting to circle the Little Rock Nine still lingering in the ether, the Rosses crossed Interstate 59 with their daughters, Burnell and Susan, and dropped them off for first grade at the previously all-white Betsy Ross Elementary School.

“My goodness, that made a statement in the community,” Burnell Loche, now 66 and married, recalled recently. The Rosses’ decision six decades ago, rendered in the face of strong resistance from segregationists at the highest levels of HISD, continues to reverberate through generations of women in the family, a living legacy to the impact of integration in the district. To their descendants, the choice laid the foundation for a family ethos toward education and integration, even as the city continues to grapple with segregation in schools and communities. During the past 60 years, members of the Ross family not only attended HISD’s first desegregated schools, but also some of the district’s most racially, ethnically and socioeconomically integrated campuses: DeBakey High School for Health Professionals, Wharton K-8 Dual Language Academy, Heights High School. Their experiences in those campuses opened previously unseen worlds for them, while also reaffirming their commitment to the Fifth Ward community, they said. To this day, the family stands as a pillar of northeast Houston, best known as the owners and operators of the 82-year-old Ross Mortuary off Lyons Avenue. “My grandmother and grandfather looked beyond that time period,” said Edwina Loche Barrett, the daughter of Burnell Loche. “They had to be a part of the movement. They knew that there was light at the end of the tunnel. And I would love to refer to myself and my children as that light.”

Houston Chronicle - September 12, 2020

AG Paxton seeks quick appeal on mail-in ballots as applications are set to go out

A day after a court ruled against him, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton on Saturday appealed an order that allowed mail-in ballot applications to be sent to all of Harris County’s 2.4 million registered voters. Paxton indicated in a press statement that he expects that the court should rule by Monday. “The proposed mass mailing would sow confusion because applications would go to all registered voters, regardless of whether they legally qualify to vote by mail ballot and regardless of whether they even want to vote by mail,” a news release from Paxton’s office said. “Texas law requires the clerk to send applications to voters who specifically request them.”

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said Saturday that applications to voters under 65 are in production and will be sent out soon. His office already has sent out vote-by-mail applications to registered voters 65 and older. “We’re disappointed that the attorney general is fighting so hard to keep information and resources out of the hands of Harris County voters, but, sadly, we aren’t at all surprised,” Hollins said. “The Harris County Clerk’s Office will continue to do everything we can to protect Texans’ right to vote, and we know that the law is on our side.” Paxton had argued that county officials’ outreach effort overstepped their constitutional authority, violated Texas election law and would lead to fraud. State District Judge R.K. Sandill denied Paxton’s request for a temporary injunction, stating that nothing in the Texas Election Code outlawed Hollins’ plan. “This court firmly believes that Harris County voters are capable of reviewing and understanding the document Mr. Hollins proposes to send and exercising their voting rights in compliance with Texas law,” Sandill wrote in his opinion. As the election nears, mail-in ballots have become a key issue for the Trump administration and Republicans around the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Texas is one of a few states that require residents to have a valid reason to vote by mail.

Houston Chronicle - September 11, 2020

Coronavirus expert Dr. Peter Hotez reveals when we can expect a vaccine

"At a Labor Day press conference, President Trump hinted that a vaccine may arrive before the November election. And recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked states to have a plan to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as late October. But top health officials — including the head of the Trump administration’s vaccine effort, Operation Warp Speed — say it’s extremely unlikely that a vaccine could be ready by then. What do you think? Is it likely that we’ll have a vaccine in October?"

"I’d say that’s very unlikely. If you’re talking about October 2021, not 2020, then I’m very optimistic. I think we’ll have several vaccines by October 2021, which is impressive. But by this October, I do not see a path by which we’ll have vaccines released to the public." Why? "In the U.S. there’s a dozen vaccines in clinical trials, and four or five are moving into Phase Three testing, the large-scale tests. In our lab we have one that’s just beginning clinical testing, and there’s also one we’re scaling up in India. The three Operation Warp Speed vaccines are moving into Phase Three trials. Those Phase Three trials didn’t really get underway until July or early August, and each of those trials requires enrolling around 30,000 volunteers. That takes time. Also, based on the Phase One trial data that was published a few weeks ago, each of those Operation Warp Speed vaccines will require two doses in order to produce an adequate immune response. So the trials are just getting through those two doses now. We probably won’t finish immunizing all those people with the second dose until the end of September or early October. Then we have to get a readout on whether these vaccines actually work. Remember, we have absolutely zero evidence that any of these vaccines work. We think there’s a high likelihood based on the high levels of virus-neutralizing antibody, but we don’t know that for sure. And we don’t know the safety profile. By November or December, we should have enough data to know whether any of those three Operation Warp Speed vaccines actually work and are safe. Then we can start rolling them out to the public by, at the earliest, the end of this year, or maybe the beginning of 2021."

Houston Chronicle - September 12, 2020

Erica Grieder: Push for police reform shouldn’t be scuttled in favor of partisan politics

Pastor John D. Ogletree reflected Thursday evening that it had been a sad day in Houston, and a somber one. Four city police officers were fired that day for their roles in the April 21 death of Nicolas Chavez, in an incident captured on police video that was finally made public after months of calls, from activists, to “release the tapes.” The video, presented by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner at a press conference along with Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, was “difficult to watch,” Turner noted. Chavez was in the midst of a psychiatric crisis when police were summoned to the scene, and the officers spent some time trying unsuccessfully to defuse the situation, which escalated tragically when Chavez grabbed a Taser one of them had dropped.

The officers “had a lot of other opportunities and a lot of other options readily available to them,” Acevedo said, explaining that the officers could have taken a few steps back rather than opening fire as they did, resulting in Chavez’ death. “He could have lived and could have gotten the help that he desperately needed,” concurred Turner. On HoustonChronicle.com: 4 officers fired as HPD releases footage of fatal shooting of Nicolas Chavez But as Ogletree noted Thursday evening, at the beginning of an online summit on justice coordinated by The Metropolitan Organization of Houston and the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Chavez’ death wasn’t an isolated incident. “Chavez was the first of six killed by HPD officers during a two-month stretch, April and May,” Ogletree said. “All of these were men of color who were killed.” He put these deaths in the broader context. Over the past six months, the nation has been roiled by a series of high-profile incidents of police violence involving persons of color: the shooting death of 26-year-old Kentucky emergency medical technician Breonna Taylor in March, after police entered her Louisville home on a no-knock warrant; the protracted death of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis in May, as a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly 9 minutes; the firing of seven shots into the back of 29-year-old Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wis. during an arrest last month, leaving the father of six paralyzed.

Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2020

Joe Barton: A third of Texas' congressional seats could be competitive this election

More Texas congressional seats are competitive this year than any time in the last four decades. As many as 12 of Texas' 36 seats could be competitive, meaning this year could be pivotal for the state with the second-largest congressional delegation, and the state and national parties know it. Before the 1984 election, of the 27 Texas members, only four were Republican: Bill Archer and Jack Fields of Houston, Steve Bartlett of Dallas (who beat Kay Bailey Hutchison in a primary), and Tom Loeffler of Mason. With President Ronald Reagan and Vice President Bush running for re-election that year, Texas added six new Republicans to its congressional delegation: Dick Armey, Beau Boulter, Larry Combest, Tom Delay, Mac Sweeny and me. We were christened the Texas Six Pack.

But that GOP hold on Texas could be slipping. The 13 Democratic members represent a high-water mark for the last 20 years. Democrats flipped two seats in 2018 (Colin Allred beat Pete Sessions in Dallas and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher won over John Culberson in Houston). The big question for this election is, will Democrats gain more seats? Congressional races are seldom determined solely by the strengths and weaknesses of the two candidates. This year is no exception. External variables include the presidential race, the coronavirus situation and its effect on the Texas economy, the political impact of racial tension, the strengths of the state political parties, and the willingness of the two national congressional campaign committees to commit large human and financial resources to Texas. A Democratic presidential candidate has not carried Texas since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Trump carried Texas in 2016 by 9 points. So the odds are on Trump’s side against Biden, but some early polls showed the president behind in Texas.

Dallas Morning News - September 11, 2020

Shelley Luther puts COVID-19 orders on ballot in Texas Senate race, claiming credit for Gov. Abbott’s reversals

Shelley Luther has no past experience in elected office, but in her bid for state Senate, the beauty-salon owner claims a political victory she says no one else can: taking on Gov. Greg Abbott and winning. Luther made national news in early May when she was jailed for contempt of court after defying an order to close her Dallas salon during the coronavirus pandemic. Conservatives rallied to her defense, as did Abbott, who in response, removed confinement as a possible penalty for breaking the rules and reopened salons earlier than many expected. “I am the only person (including every single politician in the nation) that was able to force Abbott to retract his orders ... twice,” Luther wrote this week on Facebook, responding to a question about her qualifications.

By making defiance of his orders central to her campaign, Luther could turn the North Texas special election into a referendum on how Abbott has handled the coronavirus epidemic. The heavily Republican district wraps around Dallas-Fort Worth to the northwest and includes the cities of Sherman, Wichita Falls and a portion of Denton. The tactic is also risky. Abbott is still widely popular with Republicans. While his orders closing businesses, such as bars, angered some voters, a vast majority agreed with his decision in July to require most Texans wear a mask, a poll found. Luther is one of six candidates in the election, which likely will result in a runoff. Pat Fallon is vacating the Senate seat to run for Texas' 4th Congressional District in the November election. The most prominent candidate is Muenster Rep. Drew Springer, who already represents a portion of the district in the House and rolled out a long list of endorsements from fellow Republican legislators, including Fallon, after announcing his candidacy. Another is Denton Mayor Chris Watts. Rounding out the race is business owner Craig Carter of Nocona and software engineer Andy Hopper of Decatur, both of whom are running as Republicans. Jacob Minter, an electrician from Anna, is the lone Democrat.

Dallas Morning News - September 14, 2020

Gromer Jeffers, Jr.: Don’t let the term ‘defunding police’ divert attention from needed policing reforms

The protests following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer renewed an important conversation about how to curb police brutality and bring needed reforms to public safety departments across the country. Then the politicians took over the public discussion. What could be a healthy dialogue about improving public safety and stopping the needless killing of Black people by police officers has turned into unnecessary election year drama pushed by politicians looking for an advantage in the November and beyond.

But politicians aren’t the only ones to blame. The biggest problem is that the term defund means different things to different people. The lack of clear message about what defunding means has given politicians and some activists an avenue to exploit the issue. In some instances elected officials are correct to push back on extreme examples of defunding, including draconian cuts to policing that put residents at risk, particularly in communities of color. Last month the Austin City Council voted to cut its police department’s budget by $150 million, which is one-third of its overall budget. The move occurred as the city continued to grapple with the April killing by Austin police of Mike Ramos, an unarmed Black and Hispanic man. That was followed by the protests against police brutality and racial injustice after Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis. “This moment has been born out of a lot of hurt in the community,” Austin council member Greg Casar said at a council meeting discussing the cuts. “We know we have a long way to go.” Other cities, like New York, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., have also slashed their police department budgets as officials ponder ways to reimagine the role of law enforcement in their communities.

Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2020

Austin police conduct operation at “car clubs”

Austin police have arrested 10 people over the summer who have been associated with “car clubs” that they say draw people from across the state and are associated with illegal activity. Officials said they are still tallying the number of arrests from the initiative, which they said came after noticing an uptick in crime for months near Interstate 35 and East Parmer Lane in North Austin.

According to police, investigators made 10 arrests from June 1 through early September and during that time, officers responded to 19 reports of shots fired, seized seven firearms, documented an auto theft and one robbery, among other crimes. “Most alarming is the presence of children and their close proximity to cars performing burnouts, the prevalence of illegal guns and drugs, the ongoing damage to private property and the fear these activities are creating for area residents and business owners,” Austin police said in a news release. Austin police said officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety, Travis County sheriff’s office, Travis County district attorney’s office and Round Rock and Pflugerville police departments worked together as part of the operation.

Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2020

With UT game day scaled back due to coronavirus, Austin economy will take a hit

It generally hasn’t mattered what the scoreboard says after University of Texas home football games — local hotels, restaurants and retailers catering to the huge Longhorns fan base have come out winners. That’s because about 80,000 visitors typically converge on Austin for each home game, according to a 2015 study, with many helping pack UT’s 100,000-seat stadium but others here simply to meet with old friends and cheer the team on from sports bars, restaurants and tailgate parties.

Either way, their spending has combined with that of Austin-area fans to generate about $63 million for the local economy every home-game weekend — a figure now closer to $70 million when adjusted for inflation over the past five years. But, like everything else in the coronavirus era, this season will be different. “We are going to see a significant dip” in the financial benefits related to home games, said Matt Patton, an economist with Austin-based Angelou Economics, which conducted the 2015 economic impact analysis for UT’s athletics department. “It will be better than zero, but it will be felt for sure,” Patton said. When the Longhorns square off against UTEP at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday, seating will be limited to 25% capacity, or only about 25,000 people. The cap is a precautionary measure to help prevent spread of the coronavirus, but it also has constricted the pipeline of free-spending fans potentially coming in for the game.

Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2020

Amid pandemic, Texas homeowners falling behind on mortgages

More Texas homeowners are falling behind on their mortgage payments amid the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, but Austin-area homeowners are faring better than the state’s other major metro areas, according to a new industry report. Nationwide, more than 7% of homeowners with mortgages had missed at least one loan payment as of June, according to a new report from CoreLogic. Among major Texas cities, Austin had the lowest late loan payment rate at 6.2%, according to the CoreLogic report. That was nearly three times the late-payment rate of 2.6% in June of 2019, according to the report.

Texas overall is doing better than the rest of the country in terms of people in arrears “mainly because our economy is in relatively better shape, and our unemployment rate is a little lower,” said Bud Weinstein, an economist at Southern Methodist University. Weinstein said Austin is in a better position to weather the pandemic and its fallout than other metro areas because of its diverse economy. “In Austin you’ve got more stability in employment,” he said. “There’s state government, there’s the university and there’s the tech industry, which has been relatively stable and may even be growing.” While the local jobless rate remains a long way from its year-ago levels, the figure has been trending down since the first months after the coronavirus pandemic triggered huge numbers of layoffs and furloughs. It came in at 11.4% in May and 7.3% in June and 6.7% in July, according to the Texas Workforce Commission. Weinstein said the biggest threat to the Texas economy would be “a second wave that leads to a shut down of the economy or a rollback of some of the openings that have occurred. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen.” Ray Perryman, president of Waco-based economic analysis firm the Perryman Group, said that with millions of jobs lost across the economy, it is not surprising that the number of people falling behind on their mortgage payments is rising.

San Antonio Express-News - September 13, 2020

Bexar County’s verified coronavirus death toll breaks 1,000 as Metro Health seeks to erase backlog

Bexar County’s verified death toll from the novel coronavirus broke 1,000 Sunday, and the total number of cases soared close to 50,000 as the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District worked to resolve backlogged cases on several fronts. Metro Health reported only one new death that occurred within the last two weeks, a Hispanic male in his 80s with underlying health conditions who was a resident of Sonterra Health Center. But the district verified another 23 deaths already reported by the state that occurred between June 25 and Aug. 17; Metro Health is reporting those older cases only once a week on Sundays. The death toll now stands at 1,016.

While Metro Health reported only 142 new cases of the novel cornavirus Sunday, district officials added another 1,575 to the total that came from late lab results and state reporting discrepancies. The county’s total number of positives is now at 49,915. Routing errors from four labs delayed reporting of more than 345,000 tests results statewide until just last week, and some of the tests dated back to March, according to an email from the Texas Department of State Health Services released Sunday. More than 35,400 of the tests were positive for the virus. The backlog of deaths is due to a different factor. The state reports deaths based solely on death certificates; by that count, Bexar County has 1,204. But Metro Health insists on verifying each death reported by the state because they’ve found several instances in the past where death certificates wrongly showed someone who died in Bexar County as a resident of the county but whose home was actually in another county. They’ve also found instances where COVID-19 was listed as a cause of death but no test was conducted.

San Antonio Express-News - September 12, 2020

H-E-B ice cream recall creates messy dispute

A day after Memorial Day in 2018, H-E-B issued a voluntary recall of store-branded ice cream because pieces of broken metal were found in equipment used to make the products at its San Antonio plant. The recall involved various flavors and container sizes of Hill Country Fare and EconoMax ice cream and H-E-B Creamy Creations sherbets. No injuries were reported at the time of the recall. Nevertheless, the incident proved costly for H-E-B, which sustained more than $1 million in damages. They included damage to its equipment, loss of income due to the contamination and investigation costs.

H-E-B submitted an insurance claim for reimbursement for its damages and received an undisclosed amount from Starr Surplus Lines Insurance Co. Starr now is suing the equipment manufacturer, blaming improper design, manufacture or installation of the equipment for causing the contamination. Larine Urbina, a spokeswoman for Tetra Pak Inc., the manufacturer, said the company doesn’t comment on pending litigation. “Regarding the equipment in question, I can say that thousands operate at customer sites around the world without incident,” Urbina added in an email. The company bills itself online as the “world leader in liquid food processing and packaging.” It’s part of a Swiss-based multinational conglomerate.

San Antonio Express-News - September 13, 2020

San Antonio Express-News Editorial: Trump trade record mixed: USMCA good, China less so

Throughout the 2016 campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump elevated the issue of international trade to a prominence rare in a presidential election. Striking an economic nationalist tone, he slammed the North America Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and the U.S. trade deficit with the world, especially China. There was merit — if at times adorned with crude hyperbole — in some of his critiques and he’s attempted as president, with mixed success, to correct the imbalances he saw. He’s had wins, but he’s also created domestic and international headwinds that Democratic nominee Joe Biden has pledged to address. Trade is a big deal in Texas. The Lone Star State is easily the top export market in the nation with nearly $330 billion in exports in 2019. And our top export destinations? Mexico and Canada.

This brings us to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, or USMCA, a welcome update to NAFTA. This is easily Trump’s greatest accomplishment on trade, but not in the way Trump has described it. He has called NAFTA the “worst trade deal ever signed” and hailed USMCA as the “most significant, modern, and balanced trade agreement in history.” But NAFTA, on the whole, was modestly beneficial to the economy, boosting GDP by about 0.5 percent, the Congressional Research Service found in 2015. Some research has suggested NAFTA preserved some manufacturing and automotive jobs in North America that otherwise would have flowed to Asia. And USMCA is not a rewrite of NAFTA, but an update with new rules to govern e-commerce and protect intellectual property. It also boosts rules of origin for manufacturing and includes labor and environmental protections. Nearly 1 million Texas jobs are dependent upon Texas’ trade relationship with Mexico, according to Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. USMCA continues this crucial relationship.

Brownsville Herald - September 13, 2020

Hidalgo County lifts shelter at home order

Hidalgo County’s shelter at home order was lifted to implement new protections for the arrival of Winter Texans, county Judge and Emergency Management Director Richard F. Cortez announced in a news release Saturday. The new order with new protections will go into effect on Monday and will run through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 27.

“Although our numbers are trending downward, COVID-19 continues to impact our community and remains a dangerous threat,” Cortez said in the release. “After much consideration, I have decided to lift the Shelter at Home mandate because I recognize the sacrifices made by those who have abided by this order. I also recognize that this restriction has caused some hardship with families.” In addition to the order, the county judge is continuing the curfew to keep people, “particularly younger people,” the release stated, off the streets during overnight hours. From 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the county will enforce a curfew for individuals 18 or older. Exceptions are only for medical emergencies, essential services, or any other purpose permitted under the order. The release states travel during the curfew should be limited to obtaining or performing essential covered services and limited to two individuals per vehicle. Only those in government functions or essential health care are allowed four individuals per vehicle.

Brownsville Herald - September 13, 2020

Brownsville teachers petition to remove super

The Texas State Teachers Association, Association of Brownsville Educators and the National Education Association started a petition on Change.org asking for a vote of no confidence for Brownsville Independent School District Superintendent Rene Gutierrez. The petition, which had received 600 signatures as of Friday afternoon, hopes to have Gutierrez removed from his position, claiming failure to effectively lead the school district prior to and during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the concerns brought by the different associations are claims of significant inequities of employees working remotely; egregious violations of families First Coronavirus Response Act, and failure to assist employees who have requested to work remotely due to compromised health conditions and/or need to childcare.

In addition to the Taskforce Committee not being a representation of all employees and mandated teaching platforms such as Google Meets with no input or recommendations from teachers as to what was needed to use those platforms effectively. In response to the petition, BISD said in a prepared statement, “The District respects the associations’ opinions, however, it is the responsibility and obligation of the BISD superintendent to follow and adhere to state and federal guidelines such as the Texas Education Agency and the United States Department of Education to provide the highest quality of instruction during these extraordinary and difficult times. “Although the decisions made by the local, state, and national governments may not be understood, BISD and stakeholders must work together as a community to achieve the district’s mission and goals of educating our children,” BISD said. The district further stated “BISD has developed a plan of action to safely begin the phase-in process of allowing students to attend face-to-face instruction as required by state guidelines. This plan has been presented to the Board of Trustees and Administration to start the implementation of the reopening phase in late September.”

KXAN - September 13, 2020

Planning to appeal a TWC decision? Prepare for 18 week wait

Somehow, Shereda Rawls has managed six months without a paycheck. Rawls lost her job in March then went on unemployment. But her unemployment payments stopped almost as soon as they started. Rawls said her employer filed an appeal with the Texas Workforce Commission, claiming she shouldn’t be qualified for unemployment benefits, and the employer’s account shouldn’t be deducted because of it.

The appeal filing stopped her payments. Then, both sides waited for the TWC, which oversees unemployment claims in the state, to schedule an appeal hearing with a hearing officer. It took the TWC another 90 days to hear the appeal. On July 3, Rawls’ online TWC account showed she won her appeal and the unemployment payments could continue. “How much money have you received since July?” KXAN investigator Jody Barr asked Rawl. “Zero dollars,” Rawls said. “Not one check.” “There are people out here who have children who are not making ends meet, and I think they should be more considerate in the way that they’re handling people’s claims,” Rawls said. “Some people’s lives depend on it.” She’s also spent most days calling the TWC’s call centers, trying to find out why her payments haven’t continued. Her calls start at 7 a.m. and end when the centers close at 7 p.m., she said.

Texas Public Radio - September 13, 2020

‘It’s BS’ — students, Austin residents and health officials push back on UT football game

In its first game of an unusual football season, the University of Texas at Austin hosted the University of Texas at El Paso. The Longhorns won big, 59-3. Despite the success on the field, one key game-day strategy failed: mandatory face coverings. Standing in front of the stadium, longtime Austin resident Ed Malcik waved his hands across the scene. “Look around you. There's three people there without masks,” he said, pointing at various groups. “There's another over there. There's one person behind me. You know, there's a lot of people coming in without masks.”

Media access to the game was restricted, but portions of the approximately 18,000-person crowd were visible from the roof of a nearby parking garage. Of about 600 people within sight, more than 300 didn’t wear a face covering. Malcik stopped by the stadium to photograph the arriving crowd. He said the season will likely lead to COVID-19 outbreaks. “I don't think there's going to be a lot of games. I think it's too difficult,” he said. “I figure 70% of the people here are wearing masks, and the other 30% are not. And that's problematic.” He also described the scene as “boring.” Several game-day traditions were canceled, and far fewer people were on the streets than normal. Patty Otto has been coming to UT games for about 25 years. She said the scene was unreal. “It's nice, but it's a little Twilight Zone-ish,” she said. Otto said she felt safe. But UTEP fan Michelle Burns did not. “I don't,” she said. “But my son's playing, and I'm not gonna miss him playing on this field. So here we are.”

NPR - September 14, 2020

Trump signs new executive order on prescription drug prices

President Trump signed an executive order Sunday that he says lowers prescription drug prices "by putting America first," but experts say the move is unlikely to have any immediate impact. The move comes nearly two months after the president signed a different executive order with the exact same name, but held it back to see if he could negotiate a better deal with drug companies. "If these talks are successful, we may not need to implement the fourth executive order, which is a very tough order for them," Trump said at the time. The new executive order repeals the original and expands the drugs covered by Trump's proposed "most favored nations" pricing scheme to include both Medicare Part B and Medicare Part D. The idea is that Medicare would refuse to pay more for drugs than the lower prices paid by other developed nations.

"It is unacceptable that Americans pay more for the exact same drugs, often made in the exact same places," the executive order declares. The new order, like the earlier one, which was signed July 24 but not released, prompted quick condemnation from the drug industry. Trump revels in the pushback during campaign speeches, saying if drug companies are criticizing him he must be doing something right. "The focus of any reforms must be on lowering costs for patients, ensuring patients' access to medicines, addressing the misaligned incentives in the pharmaceutical supply chain and protecting the critical work being done to end COVID-19," said Stephen Ubl, the president and CEO of the drug industry lobbying group PhRMA in a statement. "Unfortunately, instead of pursuing these reforms the White House has doubled down on a reckless attack on the very companies working around the clock to beat COVID-19." Ubl went on to describe the order as "an irresponsible and unworkable policy that will give foreign governments a say in how America provides access to treatments and cures for seniors and people struggling with devastating diseases." The order calls on the Health and Human Services secretary to "immediately take appropriate steps to implement his rulemaking plan to test a payment model" putting in place "most favored nations" policy. Translated: As with most executive actions, this only just begins what will be a lengthy bureaucratic process that may or may not ultimately result in the promised policy.

The Hill - September 13, 2020

Cruz says he wouldn't accept Supreme Court nomination

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Sunday that he wouldn’t accept a Supreme Court nomination after President Trump included his name on a list of potential nominees. The Texas senator told Fox News's “Sunday Morning Futures” that he would not be interested in joining the Supreme Court as a Trump nominee. “It is deeply honoring,” he told Maria Bartiromo when she asked if he wanted the job. “It's humbling to be included in the list. I'm grateful that the president has that confidence in me.”

“But it's not the desire of my heart,” he added. “I want to be in the political fight. I want to be fighting to nominate and confirm three, four, five principled constitutionalist justices.” “I want to stay fighting right where I am in the U.S. Senate,” Cruz continued. Trump last week released a list of 20 potential Supreme Court nominees that included two other GOP senators, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.). After his name was announced, Cotton tweeted that it is “time for Roe v. Wade to go.” Hawley, meanwhile, said he had “no interest” in serving on the highest court in the U.S. Trump’s list also included Noel Francisco, the former solicitor general.

New York Times - September 13, 2020

Conflicting virus data in Texas raises distrust of the government

Inconsistencies and problems with Covid-19 data collection in Texas have clouded the picture of the pandemic’s trajectory in the state, to the point that some residents and officials say they cannot rely on the numbers to tell them what is really going on. The state has overlooked thousands of cases, only to report them weeks after infection. It has made major adjustments to its case and death counts, defining them one way and then another, suddenly reporting figures for some counties that were vastly different from those posted by the local health department. “The changing of gears and data reporting at the state has a lot of public health departments feeling a significant case of whiplash,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg of San Antonio said.

The daunting task of reporting coronavirus cases and deaths in real time has strained public health departments across the country. But none have shown more repeated cracks than Texas. The state has faced these data problems as infections surged in the summer and schools and colleges began to reopen for the fall. Changes in the state’s figures have been large enough to affect national trends, and have sown confusion and distrust at a time when the state says it needs public support to avoid another surge. “If everyone was counted in a timely way, then maybe people would be more careful, and maybe people would understand that this is real,” said Debra Zukonik of Rockwall County, where the deaths of her brother and a friend did not appear to be reflected in state and local figures for weeks afterward. Cases and deaths peaked over the summer in Texas and have been trending downward since then, according to a New York Times database that uses both state and county figures. But the virus is still spreading rapidly in many areas of the state, with an average of more than 3,500 new cases a day in September.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 11, 2020

Downtown Houston is trying to not look empty. The solution? Public art.

Now there’s something to look at besides “For Lease” signs in the vacant buildings and empty storefronts of Houston’s downtown that also makes for a fun, socially-distanced walk. The Downtown District and UP Art Studio have installed 18 public art installations by Texas talents, dubbed WindowWorks, from the 200 to 1800 blocks of Main Street, with a few on side streets. There’s eye candy to please a range of tastes.

Beast Syndicate’s “The City of the Future Past” (609 Main) has comic book and graphic appeal. Laurence Unger’s “Hieronymous Box” (1111 Main) is a jaunty and expansive Houston landscape. Ibarracolor’s “Dynamic Disruption” (402 Main), Steffany Brady’s “Brilliant Tapestry” (1111 Main) and Ulys GOld’s “Somos Libros” (803 Fannin) feature eye-bending geometric patterns. Usagi Wasabi’s “All is Right in the Jungle” (811 Dallas), Dee Jon’s “Feels Like Summer” (1313 Main) and Ruben Ramires’ “Wild Flowers” (1100 Travis) are cheerfully nature-inspired. Angela Fabbri’s “It’s Just Paper” (930 Main) and Peso Zapata’s “You’ll Never Be Rich” (917 Franklin) provoke thoughts about time and money.

Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2020

Former Austin police officer reportedly arrested in connection to sexual assault investigation

Former Austin police officer Walter Dodds was arrested Thursday for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman that he met while responding to a mental health call, according to KXAN-TV. The news station on Friday reported that Dodds, who is 34 years old, resigned from the Austin Police Department Aug. 31. Dodds is currently in Travis County Jail with a combined bail set at $160,000, county records show. He is charged with a second-degree felony, punishable with up to 20 years in prison, and Class A misdemeanor, punishable with up to a year in county jail. County records did not say what the specific charges against Dodds are.

The Police Department in May said Dodds was being investigated by its special investigation unit. Police said Dodds had been an officer with the department since December 2017. Authorities said Dodds responded to a call about an attempted suicide on April 18. Police said the attempted suicide call was related to a man who was with the alleged victim in the case, who was identified by the pseudonym Fanny Zimmerman. Police said Dodds obtained Zimmerman’s phone number while interviewing her in connection to the attempted suicide call, adding that Dodds was heard on his body-worn camera asking her if she would lock her apartment door at night. “What if someone sneaks in there. You don’t want to be sleeping with some dude in there with you,” said Dodds, according to police. On April 29, authorities said Zimmerman reported receiving inappropriate calls from Dodds after their first interaction. She also reported that she was sexually assaulted by an officer who came into her house and walked into her room while she was sleeping.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 14, 2020

Black people targeted by Fort Worth police Tasers at over twice their population rate

Even Black people have had difficulty believing Black people are and have been disproportionately targeted by police for aggressive actions. But police documents and videos are changing some of those minds. Fort Worth Police Department records show that since 2015, Black people have been the targets of about 43% of police Taser deployments while making up 19% of the city’s population. About 33 percent of people tased were white and 24 percent were Hispanic.

Fort Worth criminal attorney Leon Reed, who is Black, says he sees police reports, body camera footage and witness statements that never become public knowledge. That constant flood of evidence has changed his mindset, Reed said. “You know, for a long time even I was doubting what my clients were telling me,” Reed said. A client would say — “No, Mr. Reed I was standing there and the next thing you know the officer slapped me three times and kicked me in my stomach.” “Naw, he didn’t do that,” Reed said he would reply, and his client would respond, “Yes, he did.“ The evidence would force him to believe, Reed said. “I have access to the victims and then you have your Rodney King moment where it shows up on video and you can no longer turn a blind eye,” Reed said. Reed walked from Fort Worth to Austin to try to meet with Gov. Greg Abbott concerning the need for police reform. Reed, who arrived in Austin on Aug. 18, said he needed about 15 minutes of Abbott’s time. On Sunday, Reed was still in Austin waiting for Abbott to meet with him.

Austin American-Statesman - September 12, 2020

Austin ignoring need for vital repairs to Shoal Creek, lawsuit contends

The city of Austin was aware that a part of Shoal Creek was unstable before it collapsed once in 2018 and shifted again in 2019 — and officials continue to ignore the need for vital repairs, a lawsuit filed last week in Travis County alleges. A Central Austin couple whose house is perched on the precarious ledge above the creek is suing the city, contending that officials should have foreseen the collapse of the elevated bank along the creek in 2018, less than a month after a project was completed to stabilize the area. City officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Shoal Creek Restoration Project, a large-scale effort completed in April 2018, focused its final phase on the area where slope failures had occurred, the lawsuit says. The project built new trails, updated wastewater lines, and removed portions of the western bank that helped stabilize the bank and the adjacent hillside. But three weeks after the city said the project had been completed, a series of heavy downpours pummeled the area, the suit says, and a considerable swath of land broke away from the western bank of the creek. Rock, soil and debris plummeted into the creek, partially blocking the flow of water and increasing the risk of floods on North Lamar Boulevard. On June 19, 2019 — after the second slope failure — the City Council passed a resolution acknowledging that the collapse posed an ongoing threat to public safety and that city leaders needed to bypass bidding requirements and proceed under emergency rules to stabilize the slope, the suit says. However, the proposed project would have come with permanent restrictions on building and use — such as a ban on excavating more than 2 feet, or requiring city approval to plant trees — that owners could not accept. Negotiations with the design-build contractor selected for the project also fell through because of the contractor’s concerns about assuming liability for the shifting slope.

National Stories

NBC News - September 13, 2020

What Obamacare? Republican candidates go mum on health care law

Sen. Cory Gardner ran his first Senate campaign railing against the newly enacted Affordable Care Act, but six years later, the once-maligned law is getting little mention in his bid for re-election. The Colorado Republican isn’t alone. After years of campaigning against Obamacare, Republicans trying to retain control of the Senate appear to be conceding that attacking the ACA is no longer politically advantageous, a shift compounded by the millions of people who now depend on the law for their coverage, including protections for pre-existing conditions. “Now with Obamacare being entrenched into people's daily lives, they just don't want their health care messed with, and so it becomes hard for Republicans to articulate on that point,” said Doug Heye, who worked on repeal efforts in 2014 as deputy chief of staff to then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va.

The coronavirus pandemic has also shifted the way Americans are talking about health care, pivoting to masks and vaccines instead of insurance mandates. And Republicans have had some success in chipping away at the law, including eliminating the individual mandate that required all Americans have health insurance. But in his first term in office, President Donald Trump has given Republicans few health care policy wins to campaign on, repeatedly promising a new plan and then failing to deliver. While Democrats have seen some in their party embrace a move to a government-run health system, referred to as "Medicare for All," Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has been a vocal opponent and, instead, has pushed for his party to improve the ACA. Health care remains one of the most important issues cited by voters in polls. After Republicans rode an anti-Obamacare message to wins in 2010 and 2014, Democrats embraced protecting the law as a winning message in 2018 that helped them take control of the House. Republicans are still happy to talk about health care, but they are opting to put their focus on what they say is a shift to the left and an embrace of socialized medicine. Gardner — whose opponent, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, holds a narrow lead in recent polls — voted to repeal the law but has shifted his health care messaging.

NBC News - September 12, 2020

Trump's Supreme Court shortlist is 'terrifying,' LGBTQ advocates say

President Donald Trump added 20 additional names to his shortlist of potential Supreme Court nominees Wednesday, and the list — which includes sitting judges and U.S. senators — immediately drew criticism from LGBTQ advocacy groups. “This list is teeming with individuals who have alarming anti-LGBTQ and anti-civil rights records, which should be disqualifying for any judicial nominee, let alone a nominee for the Supreme Court,” Sharon McGowan, legal director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement, characterizing many of the potential nominees as “dangerous, ultraconservative ideologues.” The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, called the 20 names a “wishlist” from conservative groups that have a “record of hostility towards progress, tolerance and equality.”

“If the past is prologue, he may once again nominate people who would deny legal protections for LGBTQ people, take away the health care provided by the Affordable Care Act, undermine the fundamental right to vote, erode core civil rights laws, and fail to value the lives, needs and Constitutional rights of the LGBTQ community,” the group's president, Alphonso David, said in a statement. When asked about assertions that the names on the shortlist are anti-LGBTQ, the White House broadly defended the president’s record on judicial appointments. “President Trump has an unmatched record of appointing judges who believe in applying the Constitution as written, not legislating from the bench,” White House spokesperson Judd Deere told NBC News in an email. “Once again, the President is being transparent with the American people about the qualifications he considers paramount and who he would consider for a seat on the High Court to ensure this exceptional nation built on the rule of law continues for generations to come.” Those qualifications, which were mentioned along with the president’s additional list of potential high court contenders, include a commitment to “protect life,” “protect religious liberty,” “protect the 2nd Amendment” and “protect our borders.”

Associated Press - September 13, 2020

Whistleblower’s claims on Russian interference fit pattern

A whistleblower’s allegation that he was pressured to suppress intelligence about Russian election interference is the latest in a series of similar accounts involving former Trump administration officials, raising concerns the White House risks undercutting efforts to stop such intrusions if it plays down the seriousness of the problem. There is no question the administration has taken actions to counter Russian interference, including sanctions and criminal charges on Thursday designed to call out foreign influence campaigns aimed at American voters. But Trump’s resistance to embracing the gravity of the threat could leave the administration without a consistent and powerful voice of deterrence at the top of the government heading into an election that U.S. officials say is again being targeted by Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin “is not deterred,” said Connecticut Rep. Jim Himes, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee. Himes said Putin feels “empowered, probably inoculated in the U.S. because of the president’s behavior.” Brian Murphy, the former top intelligence official at the Department of Homeland Security, alleges in the complaint made public Wednesday that he was instructed to hold back on reports on Russian interference because they “made the president look bad.” That follows previous reports that Trump berated his then-intelligence director after a congressional briefing about Moscow’s interference and that the president sought the firing of another official who told Congress he supported intelligence agencies’ assessment that Russia had interfered on Trump’s behalf during the 2016 election. The department denied Murphy’s allegation, and the White House issued a statement describing instances in which it said the president had it taken action against Russia. “This president has been resolute that any foreign adversary seeking to disrupt our elections will face tremendous consequences,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Matthews said. Senior Trump administration officials have been eager to focus more on China in discussing election interference, asserting that Beijing is the more potent danger. Though intelligence officials do say China is a major espionage concern, there is also bipartisan consensus, including in a Republican-led Senate report, that Russia directly interfered in 2016 with the goal of helping Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton. This year, intelligence officials say, Russia is working to denigrate Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Associated Press - September 13, 2020

Virus America, six months in: Disarray, dismay, disconnect

For years, Erin Whitehead has been a committed fan of the crisis-fueled medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” She has watched its doctors handle all manner of upheaval inside their put-upon hospital — terrifying diseases, destructive weather, bombs, mass shootings, mental illness, uncertainty, grief. Today, she turns to the emotionally draining show as a salve, something to take her mind off of … well, off of everything this jumbled year has delivered to her nation, to her society, to her front door. “Sixteen seasons of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’. That’s what the past six months of 2020 have been,” says Whitehead, a podcaster and full-time mother in Pace, a town of 34,000 in Florida’s panhandle. “We’ve all just been in triage. Nobody can sustain that level of stress.”

On Friday, March 13, 2020, a COVID curtain descended upon the United States, and a new season — a season of pandemic — was born. Now we are half a year into it — accustomed in some ways, resistant in others, grieving at what is gone, wondering with great trepidation what will be. New conflicts and causes have risen. Anger and death sit in daily life’s front row. A sense of uncertainty reigns. Great chunks of the national emotional infrastructure are buckling. We are locked in a countrywide conversation about control — who has it and who should. And as the most contentious of presidential elections approaches, the very notion of what it means to be an American — and to be the United States of America itself — is perhaps the biggest contention point of all. “Six months in, we are in a different place,” says Alicia Hinds Ward, an entrepreneur in Washington, D.C. “We don’t want to stay in this place. It’s ugly, it’s dark and we know we have to change.”

Politico - September 14, 2020

The gun-toting, Millennial restaurant owner trying to ride the Covid backlash to Congress

A Glock on her hip and stilettos on her feet, Lauren Boebert stood behind a grocery store and waved as pickups, Harleys and Subarus flying “Trump 2020” banners and “thin blue line” American flags drove by. The procession calls itself the Montezuma County Patriots, a group of locals — fence menders, firefighters, retirees, unemployed dispatchers and others — that parades through town every weekend. This week, they steered their vehicles into a cracked asphalt parking lot and climbed out. They were here to see Boebert, a 33-year-old first-time candidate for Congress. In June, Boebert pulled off a stunning upset of a five-term incumbent in the Republican primary — the first time an incumbent member of Congress had lost a primary in Colorado in almost a half-century. The owner of a gun-themed restaurant called Shooters Grill in the town of Rifle, Boebert went into the race with scant experience, money and national support. The Republican incumbent, Scott Tipton, was endorsed by President Donald Trump and had been embraced by constituents as a down-the-line conservative. But that was before the coronavirus lockdown.

In early May, with Colorado under stay-at-home orders from Democratic Governor Jared Polis, Boebert defied state policy and reopened her cafe. After Garfield County obtained a temporary restraining order to stop her from serving dine-in customers, she moved tables outside, leading officials to suspend her restaurant license. The dispute generated headlines — and free publicity for Boebert’s campaign — during the crucial final weeks leading into the primary, as the candidate denounced “the heavy hand of government to make us do whatever they want.” She slammed Tipton as a creature of the Washington establishment, and ended up beating him by 9 points in the primary. Now, as she tries to ride her message about pandemic overreach to a win in the general election this fall, Boebert might just represent a new, very 2020 kind of politician: the Covid backlash candidate. With some 150 people gathered in Cortez, attendees jostled to reach Boebert, who doled out autographs, hugs and handshakes. Elbow to elbow, the crowd and the candidate sang along with Madison Rising’s rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” There was nary a face mask in sight and little physical distancing. Covid case counts are low in this part of the state, and the outdoor event itself didn’t violate state rules. But following a spike in cases in July, pandemic restrictions remain in place statewide, including an order to wear a mask while indoors in public, limits on gatherings and bar closures. In her stump speech, Boebert exhorted attendees to protest these measures by voting her into Congress. “They want to take away our freedoms, our rights, our liberties,” she told the crowd. “They want to tell you where you can shop, when you can shop, what time of day and what you have to wear.”

Rockland/Westchester Journal News - September 8, 2020

Without an 'ounce of empathy': Their stories show the dangers of being Black and pregnant

Black pregnant women experience institutional racism from the health care system. And doctors and medical professionals are both unconsciously biased and overtly racist. And that, researchers say, contributes to racial disparities in mortality rates. Black women are dying in childbirth 2½ times more often than white women — 37.1 vs 14.7 deaths per 100,000 live births, according to data released earlier this year by the National Center for Health Statistics. Despite the fact that Black women make up about 13% of the population of American women, they die in numbers not far behind white women, who make up 60%. From 2006 to 2017, the most recent years analyzed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2,432 Black women died compared to 2,756 whites.

About 700 women die from pregnancy-related complications in the U.S. every year, and 60 percent of those are preventable. And infants born to African American mothers are dying at twice the rate as infants born to non-Hispanic white mothers, according to the CDC. Socioeconomic indicators, such as education and income level, do not make a difference, said Jamille Fields Allsbrook, director of Women’s Health and Rights at the Washington D.C.-based Center for American Progress, pointing to a CDC report that found that Black women with at least a college degree were still 5.2 times more likely to die than their white counterparts. “The issue is multifaceted, the causes are multifaceted, but the short answer for the underlying reasons is racism,” she said. “There’s implicit and explicit bias in the healthcare system. And so sometimes that leads to certain providers delivering substandard care, and also even just less sort of nefariously, not acknowledging pain concerns.” Dr. Neel Shah, an assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School, believes that people used to think disparities in maternal death rates had to do with race. No, he says. It's because of racism. "What's happening now is people are trying to come to grips with that understanding and trying to figure out what to do about it,” said Shah. Creating that understanding is critical. It's a life and death matter.

Wall Street Journal - September 14, 2020

Warren Buffett silent so far in 2020 presidential election

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett was an active fundraiser and campaigner for the past two Democratic presidential nominees. In 2020, he’s yet to become publicly involved with former Vice President Joe Biden’s bid to reclaim the White House for Democrats. His absence is notable for several reasons, including that he’s the most famous resident of Nebraska’s Second Congressional District. The Omaha-area enclave, which features one of this year’s most competitive House races, awards one Electoral College vote as part of a system used only by Nebraska and Maine that is unlike the winner-take-all methods elsewhere. The district, which has strong ties to the insurance and railroad industries, could play a key role if the presidential election is extremely close. President Trump narrowly won there in 2016, as he did statewide. Not wanting to take any chances this year, both campaigns are investing resources.

Mr. Buffett, 90 years old, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., was an early supporter and informal economic adviser to former President Obama in his 2008 and 2012 races and campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016, even taking voters to the polls on Election Day on Omaha’s Ollie the Trolley as part of a get-out-the-vote effort. Through his assistant, Mr. Buffett declined to comment. Biden aides wouldn’t weigh in on whether they have sought his backing. The billionaire, who criticized Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, has kept a lower profile since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. In May, he appeared via a live stream for his company’s annual meeting, and the tens of thousands of shareholders who usually attend were discouraged from doing so. While a significant amount of campaigning and fundraising now takes place online, those familiar with the habits of the nation’s fifth-richest man say he isn’t a fan of virtual meetings. At the company meeting earlier this year, Mr. Buffett said a partner who had started using Zoom “just skipped right by me technologically.” While records show Mr. Buffett hasn’t donated to any federal candidate or committee since 2019, his daughter has continued to be an active Democratic donor. Susan Buffett, an Omaha philanthropist, donated to Mr. Biden’s campaign in 2019 and 2020, federal records show.

CNN - September 13, 2020

Maeve Reston: Trump relishes his role as a divider as he vows to be 'vicious'

Taking the stage at a rally in Nevada Saturday night, President Donald Trump didn't hold back. He said his anger about a recent Democratic ad that highlighted his alleged comments disparaging dead American soldiers had freed him to take his campaign to the next level: "Now I can be really vicious," he said to roars of approval from the crowd of Trump supporters in Minden. The President, who has long relished his role as a divider who amasses power by creating a climate of fear, went on to describe his opponent, Joe Biden, as "shot" and a puppet of the radical left, before accusing Democrats of trying to "lock law-abiding Americans in their homes" during the pandemic as they fight God, guns and oil.

"At no time before has there been a clearer choice between two parties or two visions, two philosophies, two agendas for the future. There's never been anything like this," Trump said during the rally where he claimed he was "probably entitled" to a third term because he's been so poorly treated. "The Democrats are trying to rig this election, because it's the only way they're gonna win," he said. Trump's divisive tactics this weekend immediately erased the fleeting moment of unity that came Friday as the nation marked the 19th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. At the 9/11 memorial service in New York City, the nation caught a glimpse of the spirit of bipartisanship that existed back in 2001 as it reeled from the terrorist attacks. Biden and Vice President Mike Pence exchanged an elbow bump as they passed one another, a rare moment of comity within a deeply polarized nation led by a President who continues to divide Americans and turn them against one another, even as the nation is gripped by crisis.

September 13, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 12, 2020

Asset or albatross? Some GOP candidates ponder whether to embrace or avoid Donald Trump

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has a message for Republican candidates contemplating distancing themselves from Donald Trump: Stick with the president. “If I were on the ticket, I would run as close to the president as I could,” Patrick said. “There are a few districts in Texas that are pretty moderate Republican, or you might say conservative Democrat districts where maybe … there’s a policy issue that a candidate might alter a little bit, but I still think they stand with the president on the issues.” Patrick’s comments, Texas Democrats say, are good news for their candidates who are hoping to make gains in the Lone Star State, perhaps even flipping it from red to blue.

“His brand has turned off a lot of people that have historically voted Republican,” said Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa. "He’s the reason that so many seats held by Republicans are now up for grabs.” The deep feelings about Trump — chances are you love him or hate him — are creating challenges for GOP candidates running this November in areas containing swing voters or soft Republicans who have soured on the president. For those candidates, trying to navigate the politics of running with Trump can be a no-win situation. There’s political fallout no matter what the candidate decides to do. Embracing Trump could turn off voters who live near the urban areas where he’s increasingly unpopular. But if GOP candidates try to distance themselves from Trump, they risk alienating his loyal voters that they’ll need to beat Democrats in November. The recent rash of negative publicity about Trump isn’t helping his case with some voters. This week excerpts from an upcoming book by journalist Bob Woodward revealed that Trump had concerns in February that the coronavirus was a serious threat to the country, even as he later played down the pandemic to Americans. And earlier this month an article in The Atlantic alleges that Trump called Americans who died in war “losers and suckers.” Trump denies the allegations.

Austin American-Statesman - September 12, 2020

Jay Kimbrough, Rick Perry’s Mr. Fix It, dies at 72

Jay Kimbrough, who served as former Gov. Rick Perry’s chief of staff and was placed in a series of high-ranking posts to settle turbulent state agencies, has died at an assisted living center in College Station. He was 72. The cause of death, on Tuesday, was complications related to a traumatic brain injury from a 2014 ­motorcycle crash on Texas 6 south of Navasota, according to family friend Thomas Graham. At the time of the crash, Kimbrough, a Vietnam veteran with the Marine Corps, worked as an adviser on veteran affairs in the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.

He had previously served in more than a dozen upper-level state government positions. Kimbrough “was a patriot, steadfast friend, wonderful father, loving husband, & talented chief of staff,” Perry wrote on Twitter. Known for his take-charge persona, candor and dedication to public service, Kimbrough often took the reins of agencies in trouble. “Every governor has those guys,” Cliff Johnson, a Perry adviser and lobbyist, told the American-Statesman in 2012. “Somebody who can find out what’s happening out there, what needs to be fixed. Whose judgment you trust.” In late 1997, having served as Bee County judge and assistant county attorney in Kerrville, Kimbrough was summoned by Gov. George W. Bush to straighten out the Texas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies, a tiny agency under investigation for misuse of public funds. “The deal was, fix it,” Kimbrough told the Statesman in 2012. The troubleshooting assignments kept coming.

Houston Chronicle - September 11, 2020

Inside Sen. Ted Cruz’s big play to block Vladimir Putin’s pipeline

The Russian ship Akademik Cherskiy has sat for more than three months in the German port of Mukran, waiting to lay the last segment of the Nord Steam 2 natural gas pipeline running from Russia to Germany under more than 700 miles of the Baltic Sea. It may never complete the task. A bipartisan coalition led by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has enacted sanctions against businesses that help Russia’s state-owned company Gazprom build the pipeline, scaring off contractors, halting the project and keeping Akademik Cherskiy in port. The success of the sanctions marks a potential turning point in U.S. efforts to reduce Europe’s reliance on Russian energy. While no one is counting out Gazprom or Russian President Vladmir Putin, Cruz and the sanctions he championed have boxed the Russians into a corner from which there is no obvious escape.

“Their strategy has been to make the counterparties with whom Gazprom must deal more cautious and made it harder for Russia to finish the project,” said Kevin Book, managing director of Clearview Energy Partners, a Washington research firm that advises investors. “In the final analysis there’s probably a way (Nord Stream 2) gets done because the history is Russia finds a way. But it could take a while.” The Trump administration, meanwhile, is promoting an alternative to Russian gas — American LNG, dubbed “freedom gas” by former energy secretary and Texas governor Rick Perry. European critics have branded the sanctions as an effort to boost a liquefied natural gas industry centered on the Gulf Coast and expand markets for massive volumes of gas flowing from the Permian Basin and other Texas shale plays. But Cruz has pushed back against the criticism, arguing Europe’s dependence on Russian energy makes it vulnerable to manipulation by Moscow — as Ukraine was when Gazprom cut off the country’s gas supply during a territorial conflict with Russia in 2014. “Nord Stream 2 is a political project that will allow Russia to dominate and coerce our European partners,” Cruz said in a statement. “If the pipeline comes online, Putin will use it to undermine European energy security for decades to come.”

Politico - September 11, 2020

Trump officials interfered with CDC reports on Covid-19

The health department’s politically appointed communications aides have demanded the right to review and seek changes to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly scientific reports charting the progress of the coronavirus pandemic, in what officials characterized as an attempt to intimidate the reports’ authors and water down their communications to health professionals. In some cases, emails from communications aides to CDC Director Robert Redfield and other senior officials openly complained that the agency’s reports would undermine President Donald Trump's optimistic messages about the outbreak, according to emails reviewed by POLITICO and three people familiar with the situation.

CDC officials have fought back against the most sweeping changes, but have increasingly agreed to allow the political officials to review the reports and, in a few cases, compromised on the wording, according to three people familiar with the exchanges. The communications aides’ efforts to change the language in the CDC’s reports have been constant across the summer and continued as recently as Friday afternoon. The CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports are authored by career scientists and serve as the main vehicle for the agency to inform doctors, researchers and the general public about how Covid-19 is spreading and who is at risk. Such reports have historically been published with little fanfare and no political interference, said several longtime health department officials, and have been viewed as a cornerstone of the nation's public health work for decades. But since Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign official with no medical or scientific background, was installed in April as the Health and Human Services department's new spokesperson, there have been substantial efforts to align the reports with Trump's statements, including the president's claims that fears about the outbreak are overstated, or stop the reports altogether.

State Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2020

Slowdown means many on the path to citizenship will not get to vote in the presidential election

Ömer Özak will take his U.S. citizenship oath this week -- just in time to register as a voter in the contentious Nov. 3 presidential election. He’s coming in just under the wire: The Southern Methodist University economics professor was stuck in a huge backlog of more than 700,000 applications at the federal agency that vets and approves new citizens. Last fiscal year, 834,000 people became U.S. citizens. This fiscal year, the number of new citizens is expected to reach only about 600,000.

“I am really looking forward to the oath,” said Özak, a Brown University graduate who holds Colombian citizenship and has waited 13 months since applying for U.S. citizenship. But many would-be voters won’t make it to the polls this year. The coronavirus pandemic forced a three-month pause to in-person meetings and interviews that are a required part of the naturalization process, making the backlog worse. Others suspect politics may be playing a role as the Trump administration requires increased scrutiny of citizenship applicants in a tight election year. Trump’s anti-immigrant policies will likely influence many new citizens to cast ballots against him. “At best, this is egregious indifference to ensuring that new Americans have the right to vote,” said Doug Rand, the co-founder of the Boundless Immigration, which helps immigrants obtain green cards and citizenship. “At worst, it is intentional.” The former policy advisor in the Obama administration said the slow restart of oaths is especially troubling because the backlog through the first six months of this year was already about 700,000 and is likely now significantly worse.

Dallas Morning News - September 11, 2020

White House COVID-19 report suggests Texas cut hours, capacity at college bars if cases rise

The White House, warning that Texas could risk the progress it’s made battling the coronavirus, has suggested putting additional restrictions on bars and restaurants near college campuses if cases jump in those areas. The advice comes as Gov. Greg Abbott faces mounting pressure from the struggling industry to ease up on the rules that have closed bars and limited capacity at restaurants. The Republican recently hinted on Twitter that changes may be coming soon, but he did not offer specifics. While the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Texas has declined since a peak in July, a report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force said spread at university campuses could reverse those gains.

“Texas has made progress and, to sustain the gains, should continue the strong mitigation efforts statewide and strengthen mitigation efforts in university towns to decrease spread from universities to the local community,” said the Sept. 6 report, which was obtained and made public by ABC News. Specifically, the report suggests Texas consider further reducing hours or capacity at bars and restaurants in college communities if COVID-19 cases begin to rise. Universities in Texas reported an uptick in cases soon after the fall semester began. In North Texas, Texas Christian University has reported over 700 cases since classes began in mid-August, according to the school’s website. Southern Methodist University has reported at least 280 cases. It’s not clear whether Abbott will follow the guidance. His office did not respond to questions. Diana Cervantes, an epidemiologist at the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, said most transmission among students is taking place off campus at house parties or other social gatherings. “It’s a tradition when you go back in the fall, and that’s where we are having issues,” she said. The White House’s task force recommendations -- tailored for each state -- have been distributed to state government and health officials at least since June, but are not widely publicized. During a press briefing on Thursday, President Donald Trump said students want to return to school and people are working “very, very hard” to get Big 10 football back.

Dallas Morning News - September 12, 2020

SBOE gives preliminary approval to teaching middle schoolers about birth control beyond abstinence

Efforts to expand Texas health and sex education standards to include the teaching of birth control measures beyond abstinence in middle and high schools won initial approval Friday from the State Board of Education. But the push to expand teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation were shot down as the SBOE concluded a week of marathon meetings and hearings. The debate came as part of the board’s effort to update overall health curriculum standards for the first time in more than 20 years. That overall plan won initial approval in this week’s votes. The debate and a final vote on the standards is set for November.

Supporters of the contraception teaching change consider it a significant achievement because more than 80% of school districts in the state teach abstinence-only or offer no sexual education at all, according to a 2017 study conducted by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund. Teaching about birth control measures beyond abstinence in Texas is required only in high school, where health education courses are optional. What began as a series of over 12-hour meetings and late-night debates ended Friday with one board member calling fellow members' faith into question as the Republican-dominated SBOE kept the teaching of the differences between sexual orientation and gender identity out of health courses. That decision came on the heals of Tuesday’s hearing, which featured hours of testimony from dozens of Texans who pressed the board to provide comprehensive sex education to students across the state. Board member Ruben Cortez made a series of proposals that focused on the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity, and all were rejected. One of his last proposals, which called for everyone regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity to be treated with dignity and respect, was defeated by votes of 9-6.

Austin American-Statesman - September 11, 2020

UT faces $162M coronavirus hit

With spending on hand sanitizer heading into the millions of dollars and cash cows like the university football stadium operating at limited capacity, the coronavirus financial loss to the University of Texas could spiral to as much as $162 million by the end of the year, according to an August internal document prepared by UT officials. The budget document, obtained by the American-Statesman through a request under the Texas Public Information Act, is the most comprehensive view to date of the ravages of the coronavirus on UT’s bottom line, especially the pain incurred by revenue-generating operations such as museums, performing art centers and athletic venues.

Prepared by the university’s budget office Aug. 18, eight days before classes began, mostly taught online, the document found that the school had spent or planned to spend $30.1 million for campus activities addressing the pandemic, including preparations for the fall semester. Those expenses include: $7.5 million in information technology equipment, including remote learning resources and licenses and services. At least $4.6 million for masks and sanitizer dispensers and supplies. That tally includes nearly $500,000 on about 50,000 student safety kits containing face masks, sanitizer, a thermometer and health instructions; about $1 million for more than 3,000 sanitizing stations across campus; and more than $2 million for sanitizer itself. $2.1 million for safety signage, protective plexiglass and other barriers, plus building cleaning supplies. $5.2 million for COVID-19 testing equipment, test kits and other supplies, along with related personnel costs. Those costs compete, in theory, with the university’s ability to deliver on its core missions of education and research. But UT Chief Financial Officer Darrell Bazzell told the Statesman that coronavirus-related measures have “hurt our revenue-generating operations, but are not having a significant impact on our core mission to date.”

Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2020

In Texas Senate race, Hegar jabs and Cornyn sidesteps

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate MJ Hegar launched her first TV ad of the general election campaign this past week, introducing her military heroics to a statewide audience even as she sought to draw U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, into the controversy surrounding President Donald Trump’s reported disparagement of those who fought and died for their country as “suckers” and “losers.” “I am a pilot who was shot down, and that means that our commander in chief thinks that I’m a loser, and, you know, more importantly, when I heard these comments ... I flashed back to the friends that I’ve lost, to their children that I’ve had to watch grow up remotely on social media, the men and women I’ve medevaced off the battlefield, that were wounded or were killed,” Hegar, 44, said on a Zoom call Thursday.

It was day eight of Hegar’s concerted effort to gain some traction from a sensational story that so naturally invited the outrage of a candidate with Hegar’s military history it earned her a prized spot on Rachel Maddow’s Sept. 3 show on MSNBC, the night The Atlantic dropped its explosive report, based on anonymous sources. But the appearance also spoke to how much ground Hegar has to gain less than two months before the election. “This story today, as it broke this evening, earned a response from a woman named MJ Hegar,” Maddow said in her introduction. “She’s the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate in Texas.” Two years ago, Beto O’Rourke, the El Paso congressman who was a virtual unknown statewide when he set out to challenge U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in 2018, raised more than $80 million on his way to becoming a national Democratic superstar, the focus of the most-watched Senate race in the nation. At a comparable moment two years ago, he would have needed no introduction. Hegar does.

Austin American-Statesman - September 13, 2020

Austin American-Statesman Editorial: Texas’ foster kids deserve safe homes

Court orders haven’t fixed it. Scathing reports and fines haven’t fixed it. Even the weight of public shaming hasn’t fixed it. Texas is still failing to protect some of the most vulnerable children and teens in its foster care system — youth who have been removed from abusive or neglectful homes, only to be abused or neglected by the state’s own providers. Eleven more foster children died in the state’s care in the nine months ending April 30, as a decade-long court case over their care continued to grind on. Many of those deaths were avoidable, U.S. District Judge Janis Jack said at a court hearing this month.

“I actually am stunned by the noncompliance of the state,” said Jack, who has repeatedly ordered the state to improve its protections for foster kids. “But I keep being stunned every time we have one of these hearings.” Texans should be stunned and outraged, too. It is long past time for our state leaders to fix the foster care system. Jack has provided a detailed road map, with numerous orders requiring state officials to strengthen the oversight of residential facilities and ensure investigators quickly address allegations of abuse or neglect in foster homes, among other things. If residential facilities keep failing to meet state standards — as some have — officials must stop sending foster children to them. Instead, warning signs have gone ignored. Regulatory officials ignored a Prairie Harbor facility’s history of 145 citations and allowed it to operate without meeting the minimum staff-to-children ratio. Caseworkers ignored the facility’s recent probationary status and sent a 14-year-old girl to live there. The facility ignored the 14-year-old girl’s complaints of leg pain for weeks, until a blood clot traveled from her leg to her lungs, killing her.

Houston Chronicle - September 12, 2020

Jennifer Martinez: Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz are all hat, no cattle when it comes to Texans with disabilities

(Martinez is CEO of The Arc of Texas, a statewide advocacy organization that advocates for the human rights and self-determination of Texans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.) In Texas, we lead and we take care of each other. And when the Texans we elect to represent us go to Washington, D.C., they bring every Texan with them along with our time-honored Texas ideals. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz left our Texas values behind, along with their 500,000 constituents with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) and their families. Months after the U.S. House of Representatives introduced a COVID-19 relief package with measures beneficial for people with IDD, the Senate Finance Committee — of which Cornyn is a member — introduced a package with no funding for the Medicaid home and community-based services that ensure these Texans can live in their communities.

In mid-August, the U.S. Senate adjourned for recess without putting any relief legislation up for a vote — not even its own package. Now Cornyn and Cruz are back in Washington D.C. about to vote on the Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act. This is a misnomer, as there’s no immediate relief in it for the Texans they represent with IDD. That means detrimental, possibly even life-threatening outcomes. Here’s why. Medicaid is a state and federal government partnership, so states rely on federal funds to support their state-run programs. Medicaid also funds the majority of long-term disability supports in the U.S., since private insurance generally doesn’t cover the skilled supports needed by people with IDD. Those supports look different for everyone. Someone may have an attendant who assists with eating, dressing or bathing. Another person may have support staff who provide coaching on tasks like cooking and cleaning, ultimately gaining skills to live more independently. When people with IDD get the individualized supports they need, their life in the community looks just like life for people without IDD. They have their own place to live, their own jobs and their own community. When we do not prioritize the funding that supports people with disabilities to remain in their communities, it means limited or no services for people with IDD, increased caregiving responsibilities for family members or forced institutionalization.

Houston Chronicle - September 12, 2020

Progress on post-Harvey flood control efforts remain slow. Here’s why

It rained four days in Kenwood last week, and dark clouds always make residents wary. The neighborhood along Greens Bayou in northeast Houston saw Hurricane Harvey’s floodwaters top street signs three years ago. And there have been three floods since then. Most of Kenwood, a working class, mostly Latino neighborhood, is so deep in the 100-year floodplain that Harris County engineers have concluded no flood control project could protect it from a strong storm. Instead, the county began a voluntary buyout program in Kenwood and seven other vulnerable areas two years ago, but found few takers. Under pressure to spend federal Harvey recovery aid more quickly, the county this summer chose to make the buyouts mandatory.

The extraordinary step only underscores that, more than three years after Harvey rolled ashore as the worst rainstorm in continental U.S. history — and amid a record-setting Atlantic hurricane season — progress toward reducing Houston’s greatest vulnerability has been painfully slow and piecemeal at best. Voters passed a $2.5 billion bond two years ago, giving the county a huge injection of funding to tackle nearly 200 flood control projects. Those projects take time, often years, to complete, however. And county officials concede the cost to fully protect against 100-year storms is more than 10 times higher than what voters approved. City Hall lacks a comparable cash infusion and so mostly is waiting on the slow-motion arrival of federal aid. Meanwhile, its voter-approved street and drainage program has been shorted by more than $260 million over the last six years, money that has been used on other city services. The city and county did update their floodplain building standards in the months after the storm, but City Council has yet to follow Commissioners Court’s lead in strengthening storm water detention rules.

Texas Tribune - September 11, 2020

Texas Democrats from the border team up for new PAC in effort to flip the state House

A group of Democrats representing the state's border with Mexico in the Texas House has launched a new political group to unify their ranks and pitch in on the fight for the lower-chamber majority this November. The House Speaker Pro Tem, Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, is helping organize and serving as the treasurer of the group, Corazón de la Frontera PAC, or "Heart of the Border." The PAC plans to help statewide by aiding freshman Democrats in their reelection bids as well as Democrats running to flip open seats in battleground districts. More broadly, though, Moody told The Texas Tribune that he wants to make sure the perspective of border-area lawmakers is strongly represented as Democrats aim to take control of the lower chamber this November.

"It’s a collaborative effort between all the members that represent the border communities and it’s born out of shared experience, and this is a group that represents communities that on a bad day are demonized by our political opponents and on a good day are marginalized by our political allies," Moody said. "As the tide continues to turn in Texas politics, these are members that want to change the dialogue about the border, that want to make our presence known." The border has been at the forefront of some of the fiercest policy debates in Austin in recent years. And for the El Paso delegation, there remains a particularly strong will to push for change — and robust representation — after the 2019 massacre there by a gunman who killed 23 people at a Walmart had warned about a "Hispanic invasion" in a manifesto he posted online. Moody said the group will directly contribute to candidates and make in-kind contributions, like mail pieces, if needed. The PAC "certainly want[s] to raise and spend six figures," he said. Democrats are currently nine seats away from the majority in the House, following their gain of 12 seats in 2018. The PAC is focused on defending those 12 seats, while also helping Democrats capture the four seats in competitive territory where Republicans are retiring.

Orange Leader - September 12, 2020

Sydney Murphy: Cornyn putting East Texas jobs at risk

(Sydney Murphy, a Republican, is the Polk County Judge.) There are just a few months left for the United States Senate to save 700 East Texas jobs and preserve $170 million a year in private-sector economic activity in East Texas— and yet, one man currently stands in the way. U.S. Senator John Cornyn is blocking legislation that would clear the way for the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe to continue offering electronic bingo at its Naskila gaming facility near Livingston. The bill he is holding up would also save another 1,000 jobs on Ysleta del Sur Pueblo tribal lands near El Paso. This bill, authored by East Texas Republican Rep. Brian Babin, passed the U.S. House unanimously more than a year ago. It enjoys strong bipartisan support from the state’s congressional delegation and overwhelming support from civic and business leaders in East Texas.

But this bill and the jobs it would save have been left to hang in the balance by our senior senator. And with just a few months left in this session of Congress, there is little time to spare. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has been fighting for years in court to shutter Naskila, an action that would put hundreds of East Texans, who come from a variety of backgrounds, out of work. Rep. Babin’s bill, H.R. 759, if passed by the Senate, would make clear that federally recognized tribes can offer electronic bingo on their land. Such a bill would erase the conflict in federal law that fueled Paxton’s lawsuit and, more importantly, keep Naskila operating for the guests who enjoy visiting and the employees who make their livelihoods there, along with the numerous businesses that provide goods and services to the facility and the Tribe. It’s true that Texas elected officials have long resisted any expansion of gaming. But this is not an expansion — it is the continuation of a narrow definition of gaming that has been allowed for federally recognized tribes in Texas. The Kickapoo Tribe in Eagle Pass near the Texas-Mexico border currently operates a facility with electronic bingo. Even if the attorney general’s legal efforts are ultimately successful and the facilities in Livingston and El Paso are shut down, electronic bingo will continue legally on Kickapoo lands – but not at Naskila!

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 12, 2020

Bud Kennedy: Greg Abbott’s law-and-order campaign is a smart play for suburban Fort Worth voters

Texas Republicans have it easy this fall. Their campaign message is simple: Pay the police, fund the police, love the police. But Texas Democrats, out of power and out of luck at the Texas Capitol for 18 years, have a tougher climb. Their message is complicated: Train police better, don’t give police too much money, love police with community values. Gov. Greg Abbott is staking out that simple law-and-order campaign as Republicans’ best path to keep control of the Texas House and five up-for-grabs seats in Tarrant County.

Republicans’ campaign message fits in one line: ”No Defunding the Police.” Control of Texas Republicans’ future might rest on open House seats in Mansfield-Crowley and another in Hurst-Euless-Bedford. Democrats also hope to flip Republican House seats in southwest Fort Worth, north Fort Worth and southwest Arlington. In a homestretch campaign conducted mostly through direct mail, TV and social media, Texas Republicans will focus on one issue that regularly brings out the suburban vote. Just look what your neighbors post on the NextDoor app. They don’t post about the Affordable Care Act or campaign finance reform. They post about crime. To flip those seats, Democrats who have spent much of this year talking about justice reform or COVID-19 will need a response to President Donald J. Trump’s blustery cry of “law and order!” and Abbott’s more tempered “Back the Blue in Texas.” The two messages aren’t exactly the same, UT Arlington associate political science professor Rebecca Deen said.

Texas Monthly - September 11, 2020

Chris Hooks: Greg Abbott’s “Back the Blue” posse can’t shoot straight

You took a nap today, and you woke up in charge of the 2020 campaign of the Republican party of Texas. Congratulations! Here’s your badge and your gun. Also, condolences: There’s not much time left. There’s little more than a month to go before early voting starts, and the fundamentals of the thing are set. This is an election defined by a deeply unpopular incumbent president, a terrible economy, and nearly 200,000 Americans dead from a global pandemic that could have been mitigated. You gotta think carefully about how to make a dent. Donald Trump and John Cornyn are probably going to win the state, even if it’s by a disappointing margin. What you need to be most worried about is the state House.

If Democrats win control, it’ll be because the GOP firewall failed in a small number of traditionally center-right, suburban districts that have drifted left during the Trump presidency. In one such district northwest of Houston in 2018, Republican Dwayne Bohac won by just 47 votes. It and other districts are set to flip. Shifting the margin just a few tenths of a point, by reminding disgruntled Republicans about the threat liberals pose to public order, civilization, and your plumbing—and getting their minds off our beloved president—could be enough to save the day for Team Red. And—I simply can’t stress this enough—you must get their minds off our beloved president. As Republicans are happy to admit behind closed doors, he’s poison in swing districts. That dynamic, more than any kind of practical policy consideration, is behind the rush of Republican elected officials in Texas now “backing the blue.” In a press conference Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott, joined by Attorney General Ken Paxton and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, gathered at the headquarters of the Austin Police Association to sign a “Back the Blue” pledge, an agreement from signees to “oppose any efforts to defund the police and to show my support for the brave law enforcement officers who risk their lives to protect and serve.”

San Antonio Express-News - September 12, 2020

Gilbert Garcia: Texas Democratic chair urges Biden to make serious campaign investment in this state

Four years ago this week, a Lyceum poll of likely voters showed Hillary Clinton 7 points behind Donald Trump in this state. This past week, the average of three new Texas polls had Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden within 1 point of Trump. If those numbers can be believed, they tell the story of a state that has gone, over a four-year period, from vaguely competitive to genuinely up for grabs. It’s a narrative that deserves some skepticism because we all know that the last Democratic presidential nominee to carry this state was Jimmy Carter in 1976.

You can only endure so many campaign cycles of talk about Democrats flipping this state before it starts to feel like some guy assuring you every morning that he’s on the verge of winning the lottery. This skepticism leads some to argue that Texas is fool’s gold for Democrats; that the overwhelming size of the state — and the high cost of advertising in the Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio media markets — should be enough to discourage Team Biden from investing any serious resources here. Unsurprisingly, Gilberto Hinojosa disagrees with that take. The chairman of the Texas Democratic Party points to the growing diversity of the state and the fact that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is targeting 10 Republican-held Texas seats (and two recently flipped by Democrats) during this cycle. He also cites the 1.6 million mail-vote applications his organization has sent out since January and the estimated 1.3 million unregistered voters the Texas Democratic Party contacted in its registration drive over the first week of September. Hinojosa argues that a targeted advertising campaign by Biden in the right districts could not only secure him the state’s 38 electoral votes, it could get Democratic congressional and state House candidates across the finish line.

Rio Grande Guardian - September 11, 2020

John Cornyn: More coastal protection is coming

Texas had a near miss last month. Contrary to earlier projections, Hurricane Laura brought significantly less damage than anticipated. Had the storm shifted slightly west, our communities would be devastated like those of our Louisiana neighbors. Had it moved more slowly, the rainfall and storm surge could have rivaled that of Hurricane Harvey. Truth be told we were lucky this time, but next time we may not be. When the next major storm barrels toward Texas’ coastline, we can’t just bank on luck – we need to ensure preparation is on our side. More than 15 years ago – long before Hurricane Laura, Harvey, or even Ike – the idea for a massive flood mitigation project along Texas’ Gulf Coast was conceived. The Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay project spans nearly 4,000 square miles from Brazoria County to Orange County. It would fortify aging levee systems, build new ones, replace bridges, renovate dams, and widen channels to keep our communities safe from heavy rain and storm surge.

Despite the clear need and ongoing work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), federal, state, and local leaders to get this project under construction, one critical hurdle remained: funding. Two years ago, I helped change that. Following Hurricane Harvey, I fought to provide our state with the funding and resources to not only sustain response and recovery efforts, but also invest in mitigation projects to withstand future disasters. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the third disaster aid bill passed after Hurricane Harvey, made a huge investment in flood and storm surge mitigation projects along Texas’ Gulf Coast. I helped ensure this legislation included the full amount needed to complete this project – $3.9 billion – and later fought to authorize it. Today, the Sabine Pass to Galveston Bay project is in the Pre-Construction Engineering and Design phase, the final step before construction, and is estimated to be completed by 2026 – four years sooner than previously expected. Last month, Orange County voted to move into the design phase with the Corps, bringing a critical portion closer to fruition. This project is critical to our flood and storm surge mitigation efforts, but it’s not the only one. The Corps is also conducting a Coastal Texas Study with the Texas General Land Office to provide a comprehensive strategy for flood mitigation and coastal protection along other parts of our coast. As we’ve learned, time is of the essence and I’ve consistently fought to expedite this project by removing burdensome roadblocks, and providing much-needed funding to keep the study on track.

KSAT - September 12, 2020

Sen. Ted Cruz calls for DOJ investigation into Netflix film ‘Cuties’ for allegedly sexualizing young girls

The French coming-of-age film “Cuties” is trending on Netflix after it was released earlier this week, but it’s not for the reasons you might think. In fact, it’s sparking quite a bit of controversy. Since it’s debut on the streaming service’s website, many social media users and even some politicians are calling to #CancelNetflix or for further investigation into its production due to the film allegedly sexualizing young girls.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sent a letter to the Department of Justice, calling for further investigation of the film’s production and distribution. Sen. Cruz claims the movie “sexualizes young girls," through “dance scenes that simulate sexual activities and a scene exposing a minor’s bare breast.” “I urge the Department of Justice to investigate the production and distribution of this film to determine whether Netflix, its executives, or the individuals involved in the filming and production of ‘Cuties’ violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography," Sen. Cruz said in the letter.

San Antonio Report - September 11, 2020

San Antonio City Council is considering a $100M plan to protect the Edwards Aquifer. It has skeptics.

Can San Antonio protect the Edwards Aquifer and deliver a workforce development initiative at the same time? That question is at the heart of a looming political war. A $100 million plan to fund aquifer protection over 10 years received praise from most City Council members on Thursday as they reviewed the details, but two said they’d rather wait to see if voters decide in November to fund a $154 million workforce development initiative. Others said they were concerned over the uncertain takeover of the greenway trails program by Bexar County.

But it’s not a binary choice between aquifer protection and workforce development, said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. The new funding scheme represents a “next era” for the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program (EAPP), but its function – preventing development that would negatively impact water quantity or quality with conservation easements – will not change. It’s not a perfect solution, he said, but it’s “one that has minimal impact to our annual [spending] … one that has no impact to SAWS rates, one that has very little impact to programs that we are all trying to continue – certainly one that is not status quo,” Nirenberg said. “It’s easy to find challenges and problems … [if] there’s a better [solution], let me know.” To support the new EAPP, aquifer advocates said they wanted certainty of funding, staff to remain in place, and for the EAPP to be structured so a future council couldn’t easily undo it. Nirenberg said this plan achieves all of that, but at least one advocate says it’s not enough.

Corpus Christi Caller-Times - September 12, 2020

Trump casts long shadow in Texas' US Senate race between John Cornyn and MJ Hegar

The person perhaps with the greatest ability to influence the outcome of the U.S. Senate race in Texas is not eligible to cast a vote in the election. That person would be none other than Donald J. Trump, 45th president of the United States. And one of the candidates for Senate wants to amplify his influence while the other wants to muffle it. Trump's long shadow dropped across the Texas political landscape over the past week or so in the form of high-profile explosive quotes – some offered by anonymous sources in a national magazine article and others from the president himself in recording for a forthcoming book.

It started with the Sept. 3 publication of a story in The Atlantic that cited unnamed people with "firsthand knowledge" who said the president had referred to U.S. service members – including those killed in action – as "suckers' and "losers." MJ Hegar, the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and a decorated war veteran herself, wasted little time cranking up the volume on those those quotes while three-term Republican incumbent John Cornyn tried his best to give them as little oxygen as possible. “I’m one of the pilots that got shot down on a rescue mission in Afghanistan," Hegar said shortly after the the story popped online. "Our commander-in-chief thinks that makes me a loser. He thinks the many friends I lost and soldiers I medevaced (evacuated by helicopter) off the battlefield were suckers. This is disgraceful."

News4SA - September 11, 2020

Former DEA agent arrested in Texas for allegedly selling cocaine

The tables have turned and a former DEA agent is now the man arrested for allegedly selling drugs. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 31-year-old Johnny Jacob Domingue was a DEA task force officer in Louisiana, where he lived.

Federal court paperwork says Domingue bought four kilograms of cocaine for $100,000 to sell it. Arrest papers say he started doing this in July and continued until his arrest. He was allegedly caught Sept. 9, when he drove to Edinburg, Texas to pick up a vehicle with eight kilograms of cocaine hidden inside a secret compartment. Officials say he was going to sell the drugs in Houston and Louisiana. If convicted, the former federal law officer faces at least 10 years to life in prison and a fine of up to $10 million.

Midland Reporter-Telegraph - September 10, 2020

Jimmy Carter is fully aware his son smoked with Willie Nelson on the White House roof

The top of many a Texan's bucket list: Sharing a smoke with country icon (and profound marijuana fan) Willie Nelson. Make it happen on the White House roof, and that's the stuff of legend. Former president Jimmy Carter talks about the time one of his sons had that exact experience in the new documentary about his presidency, "Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President." GOODBYE, LUBY'S: What Houston will miss about the Luby's locations that are closing According to the Los Angeles Time, Carter says in the film that Nelson “says that his companion that shared the pot with him was one of the servants at the White House. That is not exactly true. It actually was one of my sons.” The documentary explores President Carter's love of music and his friendship with several musicians during his term.

This isn't the first time it's been confirmed that James "Chip" Earl Carter III and Nelson shared “a big fat Austin torpedo" during Nelson's visit to the White House in 1980. In a 2015 interview with GQ, when asked if it was Chip Carter that Nelson shared that legendary joint with, Nelson says; “Looked a lot like. Could have been, yeah.” “Well, he told me not to ever tell anybody,” Chip Carter said in the same article. Thankfully, President Carter doesn't seem too upset about it, and Chip Carter remembers the episode well. During a break in Nelson's performance, Chip Carter asked Nelson if he wanted to come upstairs. "We just kept going up till we got to the roof, where we leaned against the flagpole at the top of the place and lit one up,” Chip Carter told the Los Angeles Times. “If you know Washington, the White House is the hub of the spokes — the way it was designed. Most of the avenues run into the White House. You could sit up and could see all the traffic coming right at you. It’s a nice place up there.”

CBS News - September 11, 2020

Texas police group puts up billboard warning "enter at your own risk," saying Austin defunded police

The Texas Municipal Police Association (TMPA) has put up two billboards along Interstate 35 entering Austin after the city council voted last month to cut the Austin police budget. One of them reads: "Warning! Austin defunded police. Enter at your own risk!" The second says, "Limited support next 20 miles," according to the association. TMPA, the largest law enforcement association in Texas, said on Facebook it released the billboards – which include the hashtag #BacktheBlue – "to raise public awareness that Austin is a defunded city."

Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick backed the campaign, calling them "great new billboards" in a tweet on Wednesday, while Texas Governor Greg Abbott tweeted about them with the hashtag #TexasBacksTheBlue. Abbott has called on every Texan and candidate for public office to sign a pledge against defunding the state's police departments and post it on social media Thursday afternoon to show support for law enforcement. "Defunding our police departments would invite crime into our communities and put people in danger," reads the pledge. "That is why I pledge to support any measure that discourages or stops efforts to defund police departments in Texas." So-called "Defunding the police" has been a focal point for protesters who have taken to the streets in recent months following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis. Some cities across the U.S. have acted on the calls, which come as part of a wider movement against racial injustice and police brutality.

Texas Observer - September 9, 2020

Beyoncé isn’t possible without Houston. Houston isn’t possible without the Black diaspora.

Beyoncé’s second visual album, Lemonade, is characterized by foreboding visions of weeping willows, dark bayous, and images of Black women decorated in antebellum garb. It’s an ode to the landscape of Texas and Louisiana and heavily inspired by the 1991 film Daughters of the Dust. Lemonade, a 12-song visual, takes the viewer through a folkloric story of love, loss, forgiveness, and growth while centering Black feminine power and unity. It’s also an ode to her home and her roots. A Houston native, Beyoncé identifies as a Creole Afro-Texan: a mixture of West African, Mexican, Indigenous, Spanish, and French heritage, exemplifying the region’s convergence of cultures. This heritage can also be heard in songs like “Daddy Lessons” which merges New Orleans jazz with Texas country music through a confetti of brass trombones, trumpets, saxophones, and tambourines. Beyoncé, the artist’s first visual and fifth number-one album, focuses on her hometown and serves up a “jazz impulse of Houston’s past and present,” writes Tyina Steptoe, an associate professor at the University of Arizona. The album also includes a visual for her song “Blow,” which was filmed at the FunPlex Amusement Park, a childhood landmark for the artist and a staple in Houston.

Now, her most recent visual album, Black is King, released this year, explores a diaspora and encourages yet another period of rediscovery for Black people, this time with an even farther, global reach, rooted in her ideas of home. The film is a companion to her album Lion King: The Gift which was released last year. Beyoncé’s work and artistic expression, grounded in Houston and the South, is no random phenomenon. The global star is loved yet controversial due in part to her increased pro-Black stance alongside her palatable Creole features which play into colorism tropes, yet she is arguably one of the most influential icons of our lifetimes. Her complexity and work should be seen as a representation of Texas’ Black artistic heritage, and her vision a result of the “artistic Eden” that is Houston—a city tilled by expressive and innovative Afro-Texans during the New Negro Movement in the 1920s and 1930s, whose artistry continues to reverberate throughout Beyoncé’s work as well as that of Black artists across the state. Beyoncé “takes the viewers on a slab ride through the oldest and Blackest spaces in her hometown,” writes Steptoe, who has extensively studied race and culture in Houston. In Beyoncé, the video for “No Angel” features Beyoncé posing in all white with a cowboy hat as she stands in front of a traditional shotgun-style house found in the older parts of Houston. Images of the Fourth Ward, a historic African American community in the Bayou City, move across the screen: candy red slabs, OG rappers, and a strip club locker room. The video also includes a shot of Cuney Homes, the Third Ward’s first public housing complex, named for Norris Wright Cuney, an African American activist during Reconstruction.

KXAN - September 11, 2020

Families sue Gov. Abbott, claim Texas is ‘violating constitutional rights’ of nursing home residents

Marcy Renneberg spent weeks grieving the death of her father. She would like to sit with her mother to help her process their loss, but isn’t allowed due to state restrictions. That’s why Renneberg said she filed a lawsuit. “We still had memories to make that were stolen from us,” she said, blaming the state of Texas as the thief. After COVID-19 began to spread across the state back in mid-March, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a disaster declaration, and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) restricted access to vulnerable long-term care facilities — banning any non-essential visitors, including family members.

In the court documents filed this week, Renneberg and another family claim the governor, HHSC and the individual nursing homes are “violating constitutional and statutory rights” of the residents and their loved ones by “prohibiting essential family visitors, damaging the health of residents in these facilities, and costing precious time to the residents and their families.” Renneberg said her father remained healthy for four months after the pandemic began, but he ultimately tested positive for the virus and later died. “To know they’ve suffered months of cruel isolation, and you’ve had your heart ripped out? It’s a tormenting process that you weren’t able to be there with them for their last months. Their last months,” she cried. “The government has taken that away from us. The government is the one that’s responsible for the cruelty to my family.” Her attorney, Warren Norred, said they are concerned about how long these restrictions have been in place. “We wouldn’t have filed this a day into this or a week into this,” Norred said. “We’ve had multiple plaintiffs die and pass away while we are trying to find some remedy for them.” He argued there should be a special session of the Texas legislature called in order to “suspend laws” for this long, and there is “no oversight” to the governor’s actions.

City Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 12, 2020

Sharon Grigsby: As Dallas' police chief resigns, it’s the departure of a different Black female leader in DPD that leaves me saddest

Chief U. Reneé Hall’s resignation is understandably the prevailing headline out of the Dallas Police Department, but it’s the departure of another Black female leader at DPD that most weighs on my heart today. After serving for almost eight years in the often-heated intersection of cops and citizens, Joli Robinson is moving on from her job as director of community affairs and youth outreach. Her departure is a huge loss for both DPD and the city of Dallas. It’s a story that reminds us that the Police Department — like all of our municipal institutions — is made up of many unsung heroes whose work is every bit as critical as that of the boss. If you’ve attended a DPD community event — or needed help navigating the department’s bureaucratic maze — you’ve encountered Robinson. She’s never settled for painting her employer with feel-good PR.

“My focus was that people would feel that the Police Department was an organization here to serve,” she told me Wednesday. After hearing of her resignation, my first call to Robinson was a selfish one: Tell me this isn’t so, especially not in these unsettling times. She admitted it was a hard decision, still bound up in guilt even several weeks after she sent Hall her resignation letter. “There’s always more work to do, but that would keep me there forever,” she said. Robinson swears her decision has nothing to do with Hall’s departure — after all, she started in the department when David Brown was the top cop. But given that most of Robinson’s job involved working directly with Hall, she’s had a great seat from which to observe. “It was a totally different ballgame” when the department got its first female — a woman of color — chief, Robinson said. Robinson saw far more respect — both inside and outside the department — for Brown than Hall. “Maybe it was because he was a male, because he was from Dallas, because he promoted up through the department … and been a city employee for so many years,” she said. Hall was the opposite: She didn’t grow up in Dallas or come through the DPD ranks. In addition, Robinson said, Hall’s bosses at City Hall were still relatively new to Dallas themselves. “Everyone at that moment was trying to learn the city and its politics,” Robinson said.

Houston Chronicle - September 11, 2020

Nonprofit attacks digital divide by giving 5,000 devices to Spring Branch ISD families

Within 48 hours of posting the registration form online, the Comp-U-Dopt team received over 25,000 inquiries from families in need of a computer. That was in early March when the pandemic first started to take hold in Harris County. Since then, Comp-U-Dopt, partnering with Communities in Schools, has distributed 5,000 keyboard-enabled devices to families located within Spring Branch ISD boundaries. The groups have also supplied over 15,000 devices across Harris County.

“Our mission is to provide an opportunity to a student or family who, through no fault of their own, cannot afford a computer,” said Colin Dempsey, executive director of Comp-U-Dopt’s Houston-Galveston region. “It really is an equalizer, giving people a chance and a leg up.” Comp-U-Dopt was founded in 2007 by Houston lawyer Jonathan Osha, who wanted to donate his extra computers to students who need them the most. When he first created Comp-U-Dopt, the organization gave out 60 computers. Now, they have distributed in total over 28,000 computers with the help of a $1 million donation from Houston residents Eric and Shanna Bass. Due to schools suspending in-person learning, Comp-U-Dopt started distributing five times their normal volume, with the help of CIS, an organization that provides individualized student support at 159 Houston area schools.

Dallas Morning News - September 13, 2020

Dallas Morning News Editorial: Dallas’ suffering taxpayers won’t get a real break this year

You could have knocked us over with a feather, but it really did happen. The Dallas City Council voted in near unanimity to lower the property tax rate Wednesday. Don’t get too excited. The vote was basically symbolic. It lowered the rate by a whopping 0.01 cent, from 77.66 cents per $100 in property value to 77.65 cents. The grand savings to the taxpayers will be about $150,000. Each of us can enjoy a fraction of a french fry off what City Hall might return to our pockets. But given local, state and federal government’s ever-expansionary efforts, this little acknowledgement that the buck has got to stop somewhere was welcome.

We can thank council member David Blewett, who like many Dallas residents, is trying to raise a family in the city and who, year after year, is squeezed a little more by his property tax bill. This year (once again, like clockwork) many residents got eye-popping increases in what the Dallas County Appraisal District says their homes are worth. That means their taxes are increasing unless rates drop far more than a fraction of a fraction of a cent. Some of those residents rightly wonder whether they are making the right choice to stay in the city or to head to the suburbs. Adding to their burden by increasing the tax rate was never a realistic political option. But the council was unlikely to lower the rate either — not with a pressing demand for better streets and more police services as well as an attempt to answer community concerns about how policing is done in Dallas. Despite that, Blewett’s symbolic rate reduction is at least a line in the sand. City Hall can’t do all things for all people. It can’t resolve society’s ills on its own. Even if Dallas residents wanted it to — and plenty seem to want it to do so — middle-income single-family homeowners are at the limit of what they can pay for city services.

National Stories

Wall Street Journal - September 13, 2020

A California law was supposed to give Uber drivers new protections. Instead, comedians lost work.

Early this year, the organizers of a small Bay Area theater told Alicia Dattner they wouldn’t be able to pay her for an upcoming comedy act. The reason: A new California law that reclassified gig-economy workers, such as Uber drivers, as employees meant it would be too expensive to hire her. Ms. Dattner was confused. Why was a law aimed at Uber and Lyft affecting comedians? “It makes no sense,” said Ms. Dattner, who also teaches comedy and public speaking workshops. When California legislators passed the high-profile labor law last year, they said it would increase protections for drivers for ride-hailing and delivery companies such as Uber Technologies Inc., Lyft Inc. and DoorDash Inc.

By classifying these workers as employees, instead of independent contractors, the law, known as AB-5, would make these workers eligible for health insurance, paid time off and other benefits—if their roles included tasks that are part of the normal course of a company’s business, among other requirements. It hasn’t worked out that way. The Silicon Valley companies have defied the lawmakers’ intentions, leaving their drivers’ status unchanged while they fight the law in the courts and wage a costly campaign to hold a statewide popular vote this November on a measure that would exempt them from the law. Meanwhile, magicians, freelance journalists and interpreters have found themselves losing work: Many small businesses say such measures would be too costly to implement, and have instead opted to cut back on their use of independent workers. Besieged with complaints, the California legislature earlier this month amended the law to exempt workers in industries from comedy to youth sports. While a huge array of groups with objections—including interpreters and journalists--were mollified, concerns about the law’s effects still linger among employers and workers alike, including small theaters, fast-food franchises and even some mall Santas. The ride-sharing and delivery companies’ legal and political push against AB-5 is “such a frustrating example of the way you can buy your way into a regulatory environment that suits you,” said Veena Dubal, a professor who studies employment law at University of California, Hastings, and has been a vocal critic of the companies. “They have been defying the order since Jan. 1. Meanwhile, a yoga studio doesn’t have that luxury.”

NBC News - September 13, 2020

Fires raging in West kill 33, with dozens missing

Wildfires raging in the West have killed at least 33 people with dozens of others missing and tens of thousands more in California, Oregon and Washington forced to flee their homes. The death toll is likely to climb, with one Oregon official warning of a "mass fatality incident." "There are going to be a number of fatalities, folks who just couldn't get warning in time and evacuate their homes and get to safety," state Emergency Management Director Andrew Phelps told MSNBC late Friday. Several additional deaths in the Oregon fires brought the total in the state so far to 10.

In California, where fires since last month have charred over 3.2 million acres and destroyed about 4,000 structures, the number of dead reached 22 on Saturday. The remains of three people were found amid the rubble of the North Complex Fire, which has been burning in Butte, Plumas and Yuba counties, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Saturday evening. In Washington, a 1-year-old boy died in blazes that the governor called "climate fires." “This is not an act of God,” Gov. Jay Inslee said. “This has happened because we have changed the climate.” The land burned in Washington in just the past five days amounted to the state’s second-worst fire season, after 2015, Inslee said. President Donald Trump will visit California's Sacramento County on Monday to meet with officials about the wildfires, the White House announced Saturday. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, called Cal Fire, said that over 16,000 firefighters have been called to battle the 28 major wildfires the state has faced so far this year.

Washington Post - September 13, 2020

Mike Bloomberg to spend at least $100 million in Florida to benefit Joe Biden

Former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg plans to spend at least $100 million in Florida to help elect Democrat Joe Biden, a massive late-stage infusion of cash that could reshape the presidential contest in a costly toss-up state central to President Trump’s reelection hopes. Bloomberg made the decision to focus his final election spending on Florida last week, after news reports that Trump had considered spending as much as $100 million of his own money in the final weeks of the campaign, Bloomberg’s advisers said. Presented with several options on how to make good on an earlier promise to help elect Biden, Bloomberg decided that a narrow focus on Florida was the best use of his money.

The president’s campaign has long treated the state, which Trump now calls home, as a top priority, and his advisers remain confident in his chances given strong turnout in 2016 and 2018 that gave Republicans narrow winning margins in statewide contests. “Voting starts on Sept. 24 in Florida so the need to inject real capital in that state quickly is an urgent need,” said Bloomberg adviser Kevin Sheekey. “Mike believes that by investing in Florida it will allow campaign resources and other Democratic resources to be used in other states, in particular the state of Pennsylvania.” The last Republican to win the White House without Florida was Calvin Coolidge in 1924, and a loss of the state’s 29 electoral votes would radically shrink Trump’s paths to reelection. With Florida in his column, Biden would be able to take the presidency by holding every state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and winning any one of the following states: Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, all of which Biden leads in current public polling averages.

New York Times - September 13, 2020

Big voting decisions in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas: What they mean for November

As Democrats and Republicans prepare to fight for votes in the fall general election, recent court decisions in three battleground states illustrate how each side is maneuvering for the best possible legal position to achieve its goals — with Democrats hoping to expand voting to as many citizens as possible and Republicans working to limit it.

What happened: Two court rulings this week in Texas affected mail voting during the pandemic, just the latest rulings in a flurry of similar cases across the country. First, on Thursday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit sided with the state’s Republican leadership, ruling that the state may keep in place an age limit — 65 and older — on voting by mail. Democrats had filed suit to eliminate the age requirement, claiming that it discriminated against younger voters. Then, on Friday, a state judge in Houston sided with Democrats, ruling that the Harris County clerk, Chris Hollins, could send absentee ballot applications to all 2.4 million registered voters in the county, the state’s most populous, along with an explanation of the state’s eligibility requirements. Who is affected: The federal case potentially affects every Texas voter under 65 who wants to vote by mail because of the coronavirus pandemic but is blocked by the age limit. Even though the law also permits mail voting for those with a disability or illness, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in May that the risk of contracting coronavirus was not in itself a valid reason to use mail-in ballots.

NPR - September 13, 2020

How Big Oil misled the public into believing plastic would be recycled

Laura Leebrick, a manager at Rogue Disposal & Recycling in southern Oregon, is standing on the end of its landfill watching an avalanche of plastic trash pour out of a semitrailer: containers, bags, packaging, strawberry containers, yogurt cups. None of this plastic will be turned into new plastic things. All of it is buried. "To me that felt like it was a betrayal of the public trust," she said. "I had been lying to people ... unwittingly." Rogue, like most recycling companies, had been sending plastic trash to China, but when China shut its doors two years ago, Leebrick scoured the U.S. for buyers. She could find only someone who wanted white milk jugs. She sends the soda bottles to the state.

But when Leebrick tried to tell people the truth about burying all the other plastic, she says people didn't want to hear it. "I remember the first meeting where I actually told a city council that it was costing more to recycle than it was to dispose of the same material as garbage," she says, "and it was like heresy had been spoken in the room: You're lying. This is gold. We take the time to clean it, take the labels off, separate it and put it here. It's gold. This is valuable." But it's not valuable, and it never has been. And what's more, the makers of plastic — the nation's largest oil and gas companies — have known this all along, even as they spent millions of dollars telling the American public the opposite. NPR and PBS Frontline spent months digging into internal industry documents and interviewing top former officials. We found that the industry sold the public on an idea it knew wouldn't work — that the majority of plastic could be, and would be, recycled — all while making billions of dollars selling the world new plastic. The industry's awareness that recycling wouldn't keep plastic out of landfills and the environment dates to the program's earliest days, we found. "There is serious doubt that [recycling plastic] can ever be made viable on an economic basis," one industry insider wrote in a 1974 speech.

CNN - September 13, 2020

San Francisco may soon allow 16-year-olds to vote — and others could follow suit

San Francisco residents will be casting ballots in November to determine not just who should be in the White House, but if the city should be allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections. A similar measure introduced in 2016 narrowly failed with 48 percent of the vote, but local activists and organizers are confident that it will pass this time. “I really think that Vote 16 will help youth of color in San Francisco establish the habit of voting at an earlier age, and really provide them with the support and the resources that they need to continue building on that habit as they grow older,” said Crystal Chan, an 18-year old organizer for Vote 16 SF who fought to get the measure on the ballot.

If the proposition passes, San Francisco would become the first major American city to give 16- and 17-year-olds the right to vote in municipal elections. But the question remains: what would be improved by lowering the voting age by just two years? “Research is clear on this, that voting is a habit. And 16 is a better time than 18 to establish that habit,” Brandon Klugman, Vote 16's campaign manager, told NBC News. “Our motivation here first and foremost is to make sure that we put new voters in a position to establish that habit in the first election they're eligible for, and then to continue participating throughout their lives which is good for democracy on every level.” While this debate is getting renewed attention, some cities have allowed people as young as 16 to vote in local elections for years — like Takoma Park, Maryland, where city officials say they’ve seen positive results since its implementation in 2013, pointing to increased youth engagement and higher turnout. “I hear from a lot of people around the country who are interested, a lot of young people but also people who are not young, who are interested in adopting this in their communities,” said Jessie Carpenter, a Takoma Park city clerk. At the federal level, lowering the voting age has not picked up the same traction, but the initiative does have some bipartisan support in the halls of Congress.

CNBC - September 12, 2020

AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine clinical trials resume in U.K. after pause over safety concerns

Phase three trials for AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine have resumed in the U.K. after they were halted earlier this week over safety concerns, raising hope that one of the leading candidates in the global race to develop an injection which can stem the pandemic is back on track. AstraZeneca said it received confirmation from the United Kingdom’s Medicines Health Regulatory Authority that it was safe to resume clinical trials. The company declined to disclose medical information about the pause of the trial, but indicated earlier this week that a potentially unexplained illness was under investigation.

The company said “the standard review process triggered a voluntary pause” to all global trials on Sept. 6 so that independent committees and internal regulators could review the safety data. While trials can now resume in the U.K., the status of trials elsewhere remains unclear. “The Company will continue to work with health authorities across the world and be guided as to when other clinical trials can resume to provide the vaccine broadly, equitably and at no profit during this pandemic,” AstraZeneca said in a statement. The University of Oxford, which developed the vaccine in partnership with AstraZeneca, said Saturday that some 18,000 people have so far received the vaccination in trials. “In large trials such as this, it is expected that some participants will become unwell and every case must be carefully evaluated to ensure careful assessment of safety,” Oxford said in a statement.

September 11, 2020

Lead Stories

Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott proposes lifting annexation powers from cities that ‘defund’ the police

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday proposed punishing cities that “defund” the police by yanking their power of annexation — and letting recently annexed residents vote to be carved out of the city limits. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott on Thursday proposed to yank future ability to annex — and let residents who’ve been recently annexed depart — from cities that “defund” the police. At a news conference, the Republican governor said 35,000 people have signed his “Texas Back the Blue Pledge,” which highlights a few cities' rethinking of their police budgets.

Democrats, though, accused Abbott of trying to “distract away from his failed coronavirus response.” Abbott, who last month proposed freezing property taxes of cities that defund or dismantle their police departments, added a new threat to local autonomy. Under the new plan, if a city has annexed additional land in the past three decades, it would trigger two penalties if it reduces police funding: recently annexed residents could vote to leave, and the city in the future could no longer annex new territory. Abbott is taking aim at the push by some liberal activists to change policing, partly by shifting mental health and some other functions away from police departments to allow for shrinking their funding. “We cannot allow this to happen in Texas,” he said, flanked by about a dozen peace officers at the headquarters of the Austin Police Association. “The last thing they should do is defund law enforcement,” said Abbott, who criticized recent actions by city councils in Austin and Dallas.

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Houston Police Department releases full video of shooting after firing four officers

Leaders of two Houston Hispanic organizations said Thursday they supported Police Chief Art Acevedo’s decision to fire four officers in the shooting death of Nicolas Chavez. The firings were announced the same day Acevedo released police body camera footage of the shooting on April 21 in the Denver Harbor community. Acevedo presented a video of the footage as well as his findings of an investigtion into the incident in a meeting with Latino and Black community leaders before releasing it to the general public.

“It was very graphic; very sad,” said Agustin Pinedo, a local leader of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Pinedo said that after seeing the videos, which included events from before the shooting, he agreed with Acevedo that the officers did everything right until the last segment when Chavez was shot 21 times, according to the report presented at the meeting. Chavez “was suicidal; he was running in front of cars trying to get hit, he said several times that he wanted to kill himself,” Pinedo said. “It was pretty sad; it was obviously a mental issue.” Pinedo said the abuse of force became apparent at the end of the video when Chavez, though still defiant, was disabled from gunshots in his legs and on his knees and wasn’t capable of representing a deadly threat to the officers.

Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2020

Congress' gridlock over next round of coronavirus relief emerges as key issue in Texas battleground races

Congress has returned to the nation’s capital from an extended break as stalemated as ever over a new round of coronavirus relief, increasing the possibility with each passing day that additional aid might not come until after the November election. The many individuals and businesses in Texas and beyond who are still struggling amid the pandemic have the most at stake, particularly as the number of coronavirus-related cases and deaths continue to rise and the economy only lurches toward a recovery. But there are political consequences, as well.

The GOP-run Senate on Thursday forced a procedural vote on a pared-down relief bill, knowing there weren’t the votes to pass it in that chamber, much less in the Democrat-run House. Democratic leaders, meanwhile, keeping pointing to massive aid bill the House passed months ago. It’s no progress at all, save for new opportunities for each side to blame the other. That inability to reach a compromise now has the potential to produce real backlash in battleground races, including in the Lone Star State, where candidates in both parties say they’ve heard loud and clear from voters that some kind of assistance is essential. In Texas' closely watched Senate race, for instance, Democrat MJ Hegar’s campaign is pummeling incumbent GOP Sen. John Cornyn over the continued gridlock. “As Texans continue to face down simultaneous public health and economic crises, Senator Cornyn can’t be trusted to deliver real help and protections for working families,” Hegar spokeswoman Samantha Paisley said, accusing Cornyn of leaving Texans “in the dust.” Cornyn, in turn, has blasted Democrats for intransigence, sharply criticizing them for opposing the Senate GOP’s latest offering.

Austin American-Statesman - September 10, 2020

Court rejects Texas Democrats’ bid to extend mail-in balloting to younger voters

A Texas law denying mail-in ballots to most voters under age 65 does not violate the Constitution, even in the midst of a dangerous pandemic, a federal appeals court said Thursday evening. Ruling 2-1, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by Texas Democrats, who argued that the age restriction on mail-in ballots ran afoul of the 26th Amendment.

Ratified in 1971, the amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, stating that the right to vote cannot be denied or restricted “by any State on account of age” for those 18 and older. Texas Democrats claimed the amendment prohibits laws that treat voters differently based on their age, just as similarly worded amendments barred disparate treatment of people based on race and gender. But a divided 5th Circuit Court panel ruled that the amendment says the right to vote cannot be “abridged” on account of age — a restriction that applies to laws that create a barrier to voting. When Texas extended absentee voting to those 65 and older in 1975, the law didn’t make it any harder for younger voters to cast a ballot, Judge Leslie Southwick wrote for the majority. “A law that makes it easier for others to vote does not abridge any person’s right to vote for the purposes of the 26th Amendment,” Southwick wrote. Writing in dissent, Judge Carl Stewart said the Texas law clearly discriminates based on age. In the midst of a pandemic, the Texas law “leads to dramatically different outcomes for different age groups,” said Stewart, who was appointed by a Democratic president.

State Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Galveston ISD Superintendent Kelli Moulton to retire in January

Galveston ISD Superintendent Kelli Moulton announced she would retire from her position at the end of January, the district announced in a news release Wednesday. “I was welcomed into the district and allowed to lead bold action so that we could affect powerful change,” said Moulton, who has served as superintendent since 2016, according to the news release. “I am grateful for the opportunity I was provided by the Galveston ISD board to serve as the formal leader, but it was much more of a team effort with great synergy between the elected leaders and the educational professionals.”

Since Moulton came to the school district, Galveston ISD has improved its academic accountability rating to a B. During the 2018-2019 school year, 10 campuses earned an A or B rating, according to the news release. Galveston ISD was also recognized as a leading school district in the state. Voters also passed a bond election in 2018 and the district completed a demographic and facilities study. Moulton has worked in the education field for over 40 years. She has served in various roles, including as a teacher in Spring ISD, an administrator in Magnolia ISD and as an administrator and superintendent for Hereford ISD. She has a bachelor’s degree from The University of Texas, a master’s degree from the University of Houston, and doctorate from Texas Tech University, according to the news release. “Dr. Moulton has provided our district with calm, steady leadership,” said Anthony Brown, president of the Galveston ISD board. “By initiating our Strategic Plan and encouraging participation in Lone Star Governance and TEA's System of Great Schools, she has put us on a clear path toward continued improvement in student outcomes.”

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Houston Police Department releases full video of shooting after firing four officers

Four Houston Police Department officers were not justified when they fired 21 shots at Nicolas Chavez, killing him, Police Chief Art Acevedo and Mayor Sylvester Turner said Thursday when announcing the firing of the officers after first releasing body camera footage of the April death in the Denver Harbor community. Acevedo and Turner said they believe the barrage of gunfire was "not objectively reasonable" because Chavez, though reaching for a taser, did not present an imminent threat to officers or the public. During the 15-minute encounter leading up to the shooting, the officers commanded Chavez to get on the ground, offered him help, backed up and deployed bean-bag rounds and tasers. Chavez, who was holding a metal object that the officers believed to be a knife, was in the midst of a mental health crisis and multiple times dared the officers to shoot him.

"Let me be clear: It’s objectively not reasonable to utilize deadly force when a man’s already been shot multiple times, has been tased, has been on the ground, has shown that really he can’t get up," Acevedo said. "And quite frankly, it’s inexplicable to me when they had plenty of opportunity to back up and continue to be doing what they were doing, for them to stay the line and shoot a man 21 times. I cannot defend that. And for anyone that wants to defend it, don’t come to this department.” Turner said the disciplinary action against the officers does not lessen his support or respect for the department, but rather demonstrates the accountability required "in order for our city to move forward." "No one should conclude that the dismissal of these officers is an indictment on HPD, of the 5,300 police officers," Turner said. "But when you are wrong, when you are wrong, there are consequences. And for the good of every police officer who serves, for the good of everyone that followed the rules, that protect this city, it is important for us to call a ball a ball, and a strike, a strike."

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Goose Creek board votes against changing name of Baytown’s Robert E. Lee High School, for now

Trustees at Goose Creek CISD voted 4-3 against changing the name of Baytown’s Robert E. Lee High School early Thursday, capping off a contentious board meeting that lasted more than eight and a half hours. However, the board did approve the creation of a committee to study changing the name of the school and potentially others, and trustees could revisit the issue once the committee has finished its work. The debate over changing the name of one of Texas’ last remaining schools to bear Robert E. Lee’s name comes amid national calls to remove monuments commemorating and rename schools honoring Confederate figures.

The conversation in Baytown has grown especially contentious in recent weeks. Proponents of keeping the name filed grievances against two trustees in favor of changing it. Trustee Agustin Loredo III alleged those seeking to keep the name have called the school where he works and the Texas Education Agency to try to get him sanctioned, although neither effort succeeded. Trustee Richard Clem said he has gotten emails from people, including an alderman in Chicago, telling him that his vote as a white man did not matter and that he was racist. The divide was evident among the 60 or so people who spoke during public comments Wednesday. Those who spoke in favor of keeping the name said removing it would show the district had caved to outside influences and “cancel culture.” They said removing Lee’s name would not make the history of the Confederacy go away but would tarnish the memories of the generations of people who attended the 92-year-old school.

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Cornyn ‘understands’ why Trump downplayed COVID-19, but could’ve handled it better ‘in retrospect’

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn said he understands why President Donald Trump sought to downplay the dangers of the coronavirus at the beginning of the crisis, though he believes the president could have done that without withholding information about the virus. “I understand the intention — that he didn’t want to panic the American people. That’s not what leaders do,” Cornyn said during a phone call with reporters Thursday. “In retrospect, I think he might have been able to handle that in a way that both didn’t panic the American people but also gave them accurate information.”

Cornyn’s comments come as some other Senate Republicans facing difficult re-election fights have sought to avoid addressing the president’s recorded admission — revealed in an upcoming book by journalist Bob Woodward — that he was “playing it down,” despite knowing in February that the virus was “deadly stuff.” Other GOP senators have defended the president, saying he was right to downplay the virus. Cornyn said he believes the “most important thing were the actions the administration and Congress had taken early on to try and defeat this virus,” including travel restrictions Trump placed on China. Earlier on Thursday, MJ Hegar, a former Air Force pilot and Democrat running against Cornyn, had criticized the senator after he was quoted by a CNN reporter saying he didn’t have “any confidence in the reporting.”

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Texas Republican tries to use health care to break through in Congressional race

Houston Republican Wesley Hunt is trying to build a campaign around the very issue that helped put Republicans in the minority in Congress: health care. “Every family deserves better healthcare at lower costs,” Hunt declares in a new ad airing on Houston television stations and on cable. In the same ad, the 38-year-old Army veteran vows to protect families with pre-existing conditions while he’s walking with his wife Emily, who is a nurse practitioner.

While he’s far from explaining details in the ad or on his website, the emphasis on health care is in sharp contrast to the message of most Republicans running for Congress elsewhere in the nation. Few are talking about the issue in ads that Democrats used to great effect in 2018 when many campaigned against President Donald Trump’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. That 2010 law protects people with pre-existing conditions from losing health care coverage, and more than 20 million Americans gained health insurance because of the law passed when Democrat Barack Obama was president. Hunt’s approach is definitely unique, said Nathan Gonzales, of Inside Elections, a non-partisan publication that watches all 435 U.S. House races in the nation. It is typically the Democrats emphasizing health care, not Republicans who have struggled to put together a clear policy plan on health care that goes beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act.

Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2020

Texas Republicans mostly silent on Atlantic report that Trump called military ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’

Texas Republicans have been mostly mum on the report from The Atlantic -— citing four anonymous sources — that President Donald Trump disparaged American soldiers who died in war. Their Democratic counterparts contend the story is proof that Trump is unfit to serve a second term as commander in chief. They demanded that members of the GOP disavow the alleged comments. “Enough is enough,” Texas Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign Director Brooklynne Mosley said in a statement Friday. “It is time for all Texas Republicans to denounce Donald Trump to show our troops and military families respect. Failing to denounce Trump is a slap in the face to our active military, Gold Star families, and anybody who has ever served. There is a clear right and wrong with this. We’ll see where Texas Republicans stand.”

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican who faces a tough reelection battle this November, voiced his support for U.S. service members but did not directly address the report. “All men and women who wear the uniform are heroes,” he said in a statement Tuesday. Cornyn’s opponent, Air Force veteran MJ Hegar, called Trump’s alleged comments “disgraceful” and said Cornyn’s statement didn’t go far enough in countering the president. Hegar served three tours in Afghanistan and was wounded during a combat mission in 2009. “If John Cornyn was serious about treating our men and women in uniform like the heroes they are, he would have immediately and vocally condemned the President’s comments. He wouldn’t have waited five days to give this spineless platitude,” she said in a statement Tuesday. Cornyn’s campaign defended the senator, pointing to his family’s military service and redirecting the debate to past controversial comments from Democratic leaders. “MJ Hegar’s hypocritical and selective outrage is now completely nonsensical,” Krista Piferrer, a Cornyn campaign spokeswoman, said in a statement. “She’s attacking the senator — the proud son of a WWII veteran — for supporting our troops. Meanwhile, she stayed silent when Joe Biden told African Americans that they ‘ain’t (B)lack’ if they don’t vote for him, and thought nothing wrong when Nancy Pelosi called conservatives ‘enemies of the state.’”

Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2020

Trump has stacked federal courts in Texas and beyond with conservative judges, but GOP, Cornyn want more

In an anxious fundraising appeal sent of late on behalf of his reelection campaign, Texas Sen. John Cornyn rang the alarm bell that Republicans are in “grave danger” of losing control of the Senate, and with it, “our ability to confirm conservative judges.” His concern echoes rallying cries from the very top of the GOP ticket. President Donald Trump keeps harping on the issue, this week releasing a list of potential future Supreme Court picks that included Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. Vice President Mike Pence has likewise made the case to conservatives that four more years means “more judges.”

But the reality – in Texas, at least – is that there are currently no federal judgeships to be filled. Cornyn and his fellow Senate Republicans, teaming with Trump, have worked with such alacrity on judicial confirmations over the last four years that, for the first time in a long time, there are no vacancies on Texas' four district courts or on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. And yet Republicans have kept the matter front and center, despite there also being no current openings on the Supreme Court and relatively few on any federal court across the U.S. “That issue always brings their voters home,” said Ed Espinoza, executive director of Progress Texas, a liberal group that has tracked the GOP’s handling of the courts, both in terms of policy and messaging. “'But the judges' – they can always come back to that.” Republicans' continued focus on federal judges – who receive lifetime appointments – comes as many Democrats slot it lower in their pitch to voters, highlighting a stark contrast in how the two parties are framing the 2020 election in Texas and beyond.

Dallas Morning News - September 11, 2020

Jon Mark Beilue: West Texas A&M creates a model to bring higher education to America’s smallest communities

(Jon Mark Beilue is a writer for West Texas A&M University in Canyon.) It is not often a graduation ceremony comes to the student. And the number of times a ceremony that includes West Texas A&M University president Walter Wendler and four other top administrators driving 436 miles round-trip to present a bachelor’s degree to a graduate can be counted on one finger. But there they were on the first Wednesday of September, burning up Interstate 20 and U.S. 84 to Roscoe, a town of 1,285 located 50 miles west of Abilene. Awaiting them, among others, was 19-year-old Amanda Sanchez. There was a method to their mileage.

“We’re here to serve the communities that make up the Panhandle and South Plains,” Wendler said. “We’re not offering a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. What we’re trying to do if a student is interested in working hard and has a chance to gain a college education, we want to be here to help them and give them every opportunity to succeed.” Sanchez is a 2019 graduate of Roscoe Collegiate High School, renamed about a decade ago to emphasize a pilot program that lays the groundwork for a quick and affordable postsecondary education. Community colleges and universities, including West Texas A&M, are partners in the program. The Roscoe Collegiate System is a college- and career-readiness initiative within the Texas public education system. The P-20 model, beginning as early as pre-K, integrates STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), project-based learning, dual credit courses, internships and research in a concerted effort for postsecondary degrees.

Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2020

T. Boone Pickens estate hires Christie’s to sell Western masterpieces

T. Boone Pickens didn’t wear cowboy boots or hats, but he had a special place in his heart for paintings of people who did. The late legendary oilman, who died last September at 91, also loved artwork that depicted the dignity of Native Americans in the Old West, Texas oil-and-gas wildcatting and the comfortable daily aspects of humble, country folks like the ones he grew up with. On Oct. 28, Christie’s in New York will auction 75 pieces of his artwork that the auction house hopes will bring in $15 million.

A portion of the proceeds will benefit Pickens' philanthropy. The auction will be held — fittingly — at high noon Eastern time. The sale features works by Western art giants Frederic Remington, Thomas Moran and N.C. Wyeth as well as paintings by prominent contemporary painters Howard Terpning and G. Harvey. Pickens was an early patron of San Antonio native G. Harvey’s, and the pair became close friends. “Boone’s fortunes ebbed and flowed,” said Jay Rosser, Pickens' longtime chief of staff and an executor of his estate. “But he always did two things. He was a generous philanthropic donor, and he actively purchased Western art.” Also included in the auction is Pickens' beloved Rolex Day-Date President watch that he wore every day after buying it 1964 to celebrate the successful public offering of Mesa Petroleum, the oil and gas company he founded. “Boone told me there were two points in his life when he knew he’d made it big,” Rosser said. “The first was when he bought his Rolex, and the next was when he woke up and realized he had 42 hunting dogs.”

Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2020

Whataburger is the official burger of the Dallas Cowboys — but they’re not selling burgers at Cowboys games

Whataburger is now the official burger of the Dallas Cowboys, marking a marketing moment for two of Texas' most beloved brands. It’s the first time Whataburger has been named any NFL team’s official burger. Maybe you’re thinking what I’m thinking: Does this mean Whataburger is going to sell its famous burgers inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington now? Will we see Dallas Cowboys logos at Whataburger restaurants? Wait, are they installing a Whataburger inside the Dallas Cowboys headquarters or at The Star in Frisco?

The answers are: no; they wouldn’t say; and doesn’t look like it. For all the media coverage of this cool-sounding partnership, answers are fuzzy on what the affects might be for Cowboys fans and Whataburger fans. Not that I didn’t try: I asked Whataburger to answer the question “why is this significant?" — a query that seemed almost too easy — and they referred me back to the press release, which doesn’t say much. Here are two vague things the press release promises: “Fans can expect to see more orange-and-white on the Whataburger Game Day Set at AT&T Stadium and some exciting community activations as the Cowboys and Whataburger huddle around the causes that matter to Texas." This could be really cool. Or it could be words on a page. A spokesman for Whataburger made it sound like there was more to come. Spokespeople for the Cowboys deferred to Whataburger for details. A Houston Chronicle writer called the whole thing “rude” because Whata appears to have chosen the Dallas Cowboys over the Houston Texans. So, I dunno, that’s something? It’s not known whether money exchanged hands in this partnership. The deal appears to offer Whataburger increased messaging and visibility with America’s Team — without selling burgers at Cowboys events.

Austin American-Statesman - September 10, 2020

Tom Oliverson: Why gyms are essential in the age of COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed how we look at the world. A simple trip to the store now involves donning a mask, talking to employees with face shields, and socially distancing yourself from fellow shoppers. This comes as our medical professionals have identified ways to live a relatively normal life while mitigating the chances of contracting the virus. As a physician, I am confident that we will find a vaccine and overcome the coronavirus in the coming months. As a legislator, I have vowed to protect the health and safety of my constituents in these trying times. All of my medical colleagues will tell you that it is imperative – now more than ever – that everyone takes care of their mental and physical well-being.

For me, keeping physically fit has been indispensable and I am thankful that gyms all over the state have adapted to our new normal and implemented the protocols necessary to keep guests safe and healthy. COVID-19 may be new to us, but obesity has been a rising global crisis for years. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 3 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese, while over 42 percent of Americans are considered overweight and you have to assume that the numbers have increased with people being quarantined over the past 5 months. Over 2 million Texans have diabetes and heart disease was the leading cause of death in our state in 2017 – clearly we need to get people more active. Going to the local gym holds people accountable and is motivation for working out and keeping fit. Without this outlet and the proper equipment and professional fitness guidance, the physical health of people across Texas will only further deteriorate. Not only has COVID-19 taken its toll on people’s physical well-being, it has also highlighted serious mental health challenges as people have been isolated for months, limiting their physical interaction with others. The CDC reports that over 40 percent of Americans have struggled with mental health or substance abuse issues since the start of the pandemic. Study after study will tell you that fitness and going to the gym is a vital tool in improving mental health.

Austin American-Statesman - September 10, 2020

Travis County reports 218 new coronavirus cases, 3 more deaths

Austin-Travis County health officials on Thursday said three more people in the area have died from coronavirus-related complications, bringing the COVID-19 death toll in the area to 402. County officials also said they have detected 218 more cases of the coronavirus — the largest single-day count of new cases the county has reported since Aug. 21.

The county has now reported 27,424 cases of the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic. Officials estimate that 26,407 people have now recovered from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. County officials said 21 more patients who had tested positive for the coronavirus were hospitalized, adding that 92 people are currently in Austin-area hospitals with COVID-19. Of those, 38 are in intensive care and 25 are on ventilators as of Thursday. The weekly average positivity rate, the ratio of positive coronavirus tests compared to the total number of tests given, was 4.6% on Thursday compared to 6.2% last week. Travis County health officials have said concerns remain about the disproportionate effect the virus is having on the Hispanic community as well as people living in nursing homes.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 11, 2020

Democrats and Republicans nationwide are going all in on these Fort Worth area races

This election season is historically strange in Tarrant County, and not just because of the pandemic. Democrats have their sights on picking up five Republican-held House seats that are consistently on national groups’ target lists — and one of the party’s favorite sons, former Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke, is working the Tarrant County phone banks. Republicans, meanwhile, are marshaling grassroots support to help with campaigning in the Fort Worth area and its surrounding suburbs, many of which were once solidly Republican red but today are believed to be at least moderately purple, if not Democratic blue.

President Trump’s tour bus recently rolled into Bedford for a campaign stop, where the president’s surrogates simultaneously downplayed any concerns about losing some of the races in Tarrant County while also calling for supporters to begin going door-to-door. Long seen as a bellwether county that mirrors the state’s voting patterns, it remains to be seen if Tarrant County will be a deciding factor for the 2020 election. And the stakes are high with Democrats targeting five House seats in Tarrant County, as part of their effort to regain control of the Texas House and have a greater say in redrawing political boundaries for the next decade. “It’s a major urban county on the one hand, with Fort Worth as the 13th largest city in the country as its focal point. So it’s relevant just by sheer size,” said Jim Riddlesperger, a political science professor at TCU. “But it’s also relevant because it really is, in some ways, a microcosm of the contest going on, not just in Texas, but nationally.”

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - September 10, 2020

Texas Rangers investigating 8th death at Tarrant County Jail this year

A 44-year-old Fort Worth woman is the eighth person to die while being detained at the Tarrant County Jail this year. Dalanna Price was found dead in her jail cell at 4:41 a.m. Wednesday, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office. A spokesperson for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office referred questions to the Texas Rangers, who have not yet responded to a request for information.

Of the eight deaths this year, one was related to COVID-19. The first death occurred in February. Ricky Farmer, 57, was found unresponsive in his jail after being given a tray of food, according to a state report. He later died at John Peter Smith Hospital. The report doesn’t give a cause of death and Farmer’s death is not listed on the medical examiner’s website. Willie Goode, 61, was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital during his March book-in for medical treatment. A state report does not say what the treatment was for and his death is also not listed on the medical examiner’s website.

Dallas Observer - September 7, 2020

God, guns and small government: Shelley Luther on her state senate bid

Shelley Luther wants less government and more freedom. The Dallas hair salon owner recently announced her candidacy for the Texas Senate, and if elected, she said she’ll fight against what she sees as government overreach. The decision to run was an easy one, Luther told the Observer. “When the Senate District 30 opened up, it just happened to be exactly where I lived in Pilot Point,” she said. “So I thought that, you know, it’s kind of a sign from God saying that, ‘This is something that I want you to do.’”

Luther sparked controversy earlier this year when she defied Gov. Greg Abbott’s order closing her business and countless others to slow the spread of COVID-19. Since then, she’s appeared on Fox News and The View and even sang a duet with rock performer and conservative activist Ted Nugent. Even President Donald Trump has seemed to take a liking to Luther, calling her “an incredible representative” for people who want to get back to work. Momentum is essential for any political contender’s candidacy, and Luther’s got it. She’s been a regular guest on Fox News, which has an older viewership, and she’s also done well at reaching younger audiences. Political youth organization the Young Americans for Liberty has featured Luther on its podcast, and conservative radio show host Dan Bongino encouraged his 2.3 million Twitter followers to support her candidacy. And then there was #PelosiGate. Last week, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was filmed in a San Francisco hair salon while not wearing a mask. Since then, Luther has appeared as a guest on Fox News to call Pelosi out, which has undoubtedly helped to augment her name recognition.

Associated Press - September 10, 2020

Texans remained in locker room during the national anthem before Thursday’s game vs. Chiefs

The Houston Texans remained in their locker room during the national anthem before their opener against the Kansas City Chiefs in a coordinated display meant to bring awareness to Black Lives Matter and other social justice initiatives. The anthem was performed by R&B duo Chloe X Halle from an empty stadium and streamed on the video screens. As soon as it was over, the Texans and their coaching staff ran out of the tunnel in the corner of Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs stood along their sideline during the anthem. Most of them had their hands over the hearts.

The two teams then met at midfield to shake hands while messages such as “We believe Black lives matter” and “It takes all of us” played on the screen. They then lined up from end zone to end zone in a show of solidarity before the coin toss. The Chiefs lined up along the goal line about 30 minutes before kickoff in a show of solidarity for social justice initiatives while a video played on the screens in each end zone. Along with the words “It Takes All of Us” on the screens, the video showcased Alicia Keyes performing the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, and is often referred to as the “Black national anthem.” The song will be played before every Week 1 game this season as the NFL continues to address social injustice. The Texans had already left the field when the video was shown.

San Antonio Current - September 10, 2020

Texas leads the nation with highest rate of uninsured health care workers

The pandemic has highlighted just how many Americans don't have access to health insurance. And, as it turns out, healthcare workers — frequently on the front lines and susceptible to COVID-19 exposure — are among the vulnerable groups lacking coverage Nearly 600,000 U.S. healthcare workers are currently uninsured, according to a recent study by the financial site ValuePenguin. What's more, Texas had the highest rate of uninsured healthcare workers of any state, according to ValuePenguin's analysis, which is based on data from the 2018 American Community Survey.

Nearly 18% of healthcare workers in the Lone Star State lack coverage. The two states trailing just behind, Oklahoma and Idaho, had rates of 13% and 12%, respectively. Massachusetts and Iowa had the highest rate of insured healthcare workers at 98%. The healthcare fields with the greatest proportion of uninsured individuals are registered nurses, nursing assistants and personal care aids — those who help individuals with daily activities such as bathing, eating and getting dressed. Broken down by generation, Millennial healthcare workers make up the largest percentage of the uninsured at 41%. That group is often employed in lower-paying healthcare jobs, according to the study. Most healthcare employees who work in hospitals are provided health insurance coverage through their employers, according to the analysis. However, home health workers and personal care aides are frequently unable to pay premiums for their group policies.

County Stories

Elgin Courier - September 10, 2020

Communities In Schools provides update after one year

After a year of working in Elgin ISD schools, Communities In Schools (CIS) provided an update about their recent activities and accomplishments to the school board during their August 17 meeting. Communities In Schools of Central Texas is the local branch of a national nonprofit organization that provides support for at-risk or struggling students and their families. This support can include counseling, tutoring and mentoring. Last year, CIS received a grant to expand their program into more schools across the country, and the program began serving Elgin’s three elementary schools and Elgin Middle School, as well as schools in Bastrop ISD. CIS of Central Texas was already working with the Austin, Del Valle, Hays, Lockhart and Manor ISDs.

CIS of Central Texas CEO Suki Steinhauser gave the presentation to the school board during last week’s meeting. “We have some enormous challenges ahead of us, and we’re glad we’re partnered with Elgin ISD … to get through the issues in front of us,” Steinhauser said. Over the past year, 3,000 students received preventative or short-term services, and 258 students received case management, which is on-going or deeper services. Four professional CIS staff members worked at Elgin ISD, and 12 community partners have been established in Elgin during the first year. About half of all services provided were supportive guidance and counseling. Steinhauser said students need to feel safe, secure and confident in order to learn. “Kids can’t learn unless they’re head-ready,” she said. The rest of services provided include health and human services, family engagement, academic support and enrichment. Of the students helped, 82% qualified for free or reduced lunch, 19% had limited English proficiency, eight percent were homeless, 37% didn’t meet testing standards last year, seven percent had an incarcerated guardian and six percent were enrolled in a special education program.

City Stories

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Needville ISD bans all political masks following dispute over student's Black Lives Matter mask

Eager to show her support for a cause she considers important, Needville High School senior Calista Martinez drew the letters “BLM” — short for Black Lives Matter — with a black Sharpie on her blue face mask and wore it to school nearly two weeks ago. On the second day of wearing the mask, a teacher wrote Martinez a pass to the principal’s office — the reason listed as “Mask BLM,” according to a photo of the pass that Martinez shared with The Chronicle.

The school’s assistant principal told her the mask was not permitted and that she had to take it off, Martinez recalled. She asked why. The administrator told her the mask’s message could create a conflict with other students, Martinez added. She asked the administrator why other students were allowed to wear masks in apparent support of President Donald Trump, who has attacked the movement. “Well, yeah that’s our president,” she recalled being told. “I was disappointed in them. I didn’t understand.” Martinez complied with the request until Thursday, when she says she again observed other students wearing pro-Trump masks and not being admonished. She wore her mask again, a move that she says drew her an in-school suspension. A family member notified the school that Martinez would be going home. Later Thursday, school officials announced a revised dress code for secondary students that requires face masks “be free of any images, words and political slogans,” according to an update posted on the high school’s website. Displays of district, campus, Texas or American flag logos will be permitted. It remained unclear whether Martinez would continue to face discipline upon returning to school. A district spokeswoman said she was not aware of the development and that regardless, officials “do not discuss student discipline issues.”

Houston Chronicle - September 10, 2020

Famed restaurateur Tony Vallone, Houston’s king of fine dining, dies at 75

Tony Vallone, best known as Houston’s fine dining restaurateur, died early on Thursday morning. He was 75. Vallone, who had suffered health complications, died in his sleep from natural causes.

For the past 55 years, Tony Vallone has wined and dined presidents, celebrities and well-heeled Houstonians celebrating anniversaries — or any milestone— at his restaurant, Tony’s, in Greenway Plaza. Vallone was renowned for his Naples-inspired, Milan-influenced fare and for the chefs he trained in his kitchen. “I’ve lost the love of my life, but I will continue Tony’s legacy,” said Donna Vallone, his wife and business partner of 36 years. “His wish was for the restaurant to continue.” The restaurant will temporarily close through Sept. 14. Details for a memorial service will be released at a later date.

Dallas Morning News - September 10, 2020

Dallas ISD rolls out a new plan for returning to campuses during the coronavirus pandemic

Select groups of Dallas students are poised to return to campuses earlier than planned if the COVID-19 case level in Dallas County stays relatively stable. Dallas ISD rolled out new phased plans Thursday with administrators stressing that in-person classes and extracurricular activities could come with late-minute surprises. That had some trustees expressing concerns that the revised plans could potentially leave parents in a bind when it comes to juggling school and child care.

Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said that at this point, he did not plan on asking the board of trustees' approval for an additional four-week waiver from the Texas Education Agency, although he added he would reserve that right if Dallas County’s case count changed for the worse. Nearly all Dallas County public and charter school systems heeded the initial requests from county health officials, who asked that schools delay the start of in-person instruction until after Labor Day. But DISD was among the few districts to follow guidance from the county’s new School Public Health and Education Committee. Issued Aug. 20, it asked schools to further delay i their return to campuses. For those students desiring in-person instruction, classes would resume on campuses Oct. 5. The biggest change in the district’s plans, which would deviate from county guidance, would come on Sept. 28. Students in the lowest grade levels at their campuses would be welcomed back for in-person instruction if they desired it. For example, in elementary schools serving prekindergarten through 5th grade, prekindergarteners and kindergarteners would be welcomed back a week ahead of the other students. In middle schools, 6th graders would come back early.

National Stories

Associated Press - September 10, 2020

Virus bill blocked in Senate as prospects dim for new relief

Senate Democrats scuttled a scaled-back GOP coronavirus rescue package on Thursday as the parties argued to a standstill over the size and scope of the aid, likely ending hopes for coronavirus relief before the November election. The mostly party-line vote capped weeks of wrangling that gave way to election-season political combat and name-calling over a fifth relief bill that all sides say they want but are unable to deliver. The bipartisan spirit that powered earlier aid measures is all but gone. Democrats said the measure shortchanged too many pressing needs. Republicans argued it was targeted to areas of widespread agreement, but the 52-47 vote fell well short of what was needed to overcome a filibuster.

All the present Democrats opposed it, while conservative Rand Paul, R-Ky., cast the only GOP “nay” vote. The Democratic vice presidential nominee, Kamala Harris, was campaigning in Miami and missed the vote. “It’s a sort of a dead end street, and very unfortunate,” said Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan. “But it is what it is.” The $650 billion measure is significantly smaller than legislation promoted by Republican leaders this summer. But that version was too big for most conservatives, so the GOP bill was instead stripped back to focus on school aid, jobless benefits and help for small businesses. That maximized Republican support even as it alienated Democrats, who say such a piecemeal approach would leave out far too many vulnerable people. The result was a predictable impasse and partisan tit-for tat as the congressional session limps to its pre-election close. The panicked atmosphere that drove passage of the $2 trillion landmark CARES Act in March has dissipated as the nation powers through the pandemic with partial reopenings of businesses and schools, though the economy lags and the virus continues to badly disrupt life in the U.S.

Associated Press - September 10, 2020

‘Tiger King’ Joe Exotic requests pardon from Trump, release from Fort Worth prison

A former Oklahoma zookeeper sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws has formally requested a pardon. Attorneys for Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” filed his application Tuesday with the U.S. Department of Justice. In it, attorneys for Maldonado-Passage, 57, say he maintains his innocence and that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others.

“Joseph is scheduled to be released from (Bureau of Prisons) custody in 2037; however, with his comprised health, he will likely die in prison,” attorneys wrote in the 257-page application. “He humbly requests a pardon to correct the injustices he has experienced and to have the opportunity to return to providing meaningful contributions to his community.” The application also includes several character affidavits, letters of support and various trial documents. A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said it would be premature to comment on the application. One handwritten letter in the application is addressed to President Donald Trump, according to CBS News. “If I have ever looked up to anyone it would be you,” Maldonado-Passage wrote in the letter, according to USA TODAY. “Not because I need you to save my life but because you stand for what you believe no matter what anyone thinks.” Maldonado-Passage also wrote that he voted for Trump in 2016. “Allow me to make you proud, to make America proud, to make the world proud. Be my hero please,” he wrote, according to CBS.

VICE - September 10, 2020

What do you call a reporter who doesn’t report the news? Bob Woodward

Legendary Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward reveals in his new book that Donald Trump told him in February of this year that he knew exactly how deadly the novel coronavirus was, and that he was deliberately downplaying the threat to the public. In a bizarre year in media, it's perhaps the most bizarre development of all: The most famous investigative reporter in the United States getting the most explosive scoop imaginable, and declining to publish it at a time when doing so could have saved lives. Why did he do this? A day after the information came out, no one knows. Woodward has no convincing explanation for why he didn't tell the public about this, and the strongest defense his own nominal employer will mount is a narrow, mechanical one.

Here’s the Washington Post yesterday, reporting on the reporting that a Washington Post reporter did not report when it could have most mattered: “This will be the biggest national security threat you face in your presidency,” national security adviser Robert O’Brien told Trump, according to a new book by Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward. “This is going to be the roughest thing you face.” Matthew Pottinger, the deputy national security adviser, agreed. Ten days later, Trump called Woodward and revealed that he thought the situation was far more dire than what he had been saying publicly. “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu...This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis. The next month: Trump admitted to Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said. (The taped conversation was published by CNN.) Woodward—despite having, he said, no agreement with the White House requiring him to hoard information from the interviews for the book—did not report that the president was, by his own admission, deliberately downplaying the seriousness of the crisis.

Reuters - September 10, 2020

Trump administration considers postponing refugee admissions, U.S. official says

U.S. officials are weighing whether to postpone or further cut refugee admissions in the coming year amid legal fights over President Donald Trump’s refugee policy and uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a senior official said. The possible postponement - one of several options under discussion - would mean some or all refugee admissions could be frozen until a legal challenge to a 2019 Trump order on refugees is resolved “with some greater degree of finality,” the official told Reuters.

It is not clear when that lawsuit may be resolved, especially if the case goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, a process that could take months or even longer. The president typically sets yearly refugee levels around the beginning of each fiscal year and the Trump administration has not yet announced its plans for fiscal 2021, which begins on Oct. 1. The refugee cap was cut to 18,000 this year, the lowest level since the modern-day program began in 1980. So far, roughly half that many refugees have been let in as increased vetting and the coronavirus pandemic have slowed arrivals. The senior official said that even if 2021 admissions are not delayed, next year’s cap could be cut below current levels. “The arc of this administration’s refugee policy is going to continue,” said the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the ongoing deliberations. Trump and his top officials have said refugees could pose threats to national security and that resettlement should take place closer to countries of origin. The administration also contends that refugee resettlement can be costly for local communities, although refugee backers reject those arguments.

Reuters - September 10, 2020

How California's wildfires could spark a financial crisis

Wildfires across the U.S. West are among the sparks from climate change that could ignite a U.S. financial crisis by damaging home values, state tourism and local government budgets, an advisory panel to a U.S. markets regulator found. Those effects could set off a cascade of events including defaults and market disruptions, undermining the U.S. economy and sparking a crisis. Here’s how:

Global warming is making the U.S. West hotter and drier, with wildfires more frequent and intense, scientists say. Economists have traditionally seen natural disasters like wildfires as localized shocks. That’s changing, according to the report, produced by a 35-member panel for the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. The group included representatives of major oil companies, banks and asset managers. CalFire, California’s fire-fighting agency, says about 3 million of the state’s 12 million homes are at high risk from wildfires. That designation hurts home values, which in turn increases mortgage default risk, research cited by the report suggested. More defaults would damage banks, mortgage holders and markets where mortgages are sold. Securities based on mortgages were a trigger for the 2007-2009 financial crisis.